Is there a gay gene

Sadly they\’re talking past the real point.

And despite the obsession of some scientists to find a \”cause\” for our \”condition\”, there remains no real evidence that sexual preference is pre-determined by genetics.

Correct.

Many gay people want to believe we were \”born that way\” to provoke sympathy and understanding.

Ah, but.

I believe that I was born gay.

Entirely plausible, probable even.

The problem here is the usual lefty ignorance of science.

Given that homosexuality is unlikely to be something selected for in evolution (you can, and people do, make rather tortured arguments insisting that there are benefits to the survival of siblings) a genetic basis seems really rather unlikely.

Not impossible, agreed, but prima facie at least unlikely.

However, that doesn\’t mean that sexuality is not, or cannot be, determined by the time of birth. For there\’s that whole 9 months of gestation in which things can happen. Genes aren\’t the only thing you know!

Quite how much weight to put on this idea I\’m not sure. But it\’s one that makes sense to me at least. That homosexuality is akin to autism…..there, now that will get me into trouble. No, I don\’t mean something generally thought of as undesirable. Rather, that it\’s something that happens as a result of the waves of hormones that sweep through the foetus at certain developmental stages.

It\’s not (necessarily) genetically determined but environmentally. But it\’s the environment of foetal development and is thus set by the time of birth.

Of course: whether it\’s all about genes, development or simple and pure personal choice makes no damn difference to civil liberties. Consenting adults are consenting adults and there\’s an end to it.

63 comments on “Is there a gay gene

  1. a genetic basis seems really rather unlikely.

    Not proven – if there is a genetic component to homosexuality, it might be a not particularly harmful side-effect (modern ‘marriage for love’ not having had time for any practical genetic impact – most gay people through history have probably had children) of an otherwise beneficial gene complex.

    Not that your hormone theory is necessarily untrue – just that the genetic contribution theory isn’t necessarily ruled out. Noting that “gay / straight” isn’t a binary phenotype or even social function – humanity grades on the curve …

  2. “Given that homosexuality is unlikely to be something selected for in evolution…”

    Which is not to say it won’t occur naturally and genetically through mutation – many mutations are less successful than the median. I’d have thought the best you can say is that homo- and bi-sexuality range from entirely discretionary to entirely hard-wired. Unlike transsexuality, which seems to be very much genetically determined.

  3. Surreptitious Evil – “if there is a genetic component to homosexuality, it might be a not particularly harmful side-effect … of an otherwise beneficial gene complex.”

    But someone with that gene complex would have to have at least as many children as someone without it. Or their kin would. If it so much as reduced the chances of that gene being passed on by one in ten thousandth of a chance, it would have passed out of the population.

    I don’t rule out a genetic cause but I find it incredibly unlikely.

    2Peter Risdon – “Unlike transsexuality, which seems to be very much genetically determined.”

    I would be interested in any evidence there was a remotest connection between our genes and trans-sexuality. There are a variety of genetic conditions that mean people aren’t strictly XX or XY, but as far as I know precisely none of them have any proven link to transsexuality at all. Which is actually doing an excellent job of looking like a mental condition.

  4. unlikely to be something selected for in evolution (you can, and people do, make rather tortured arguments insisting that there are benefits to the survival of siblings)

    I did hear a theory it might a mutation of a gene that predisposes people towards being a caring parent. But that sounds like rubbish.

    As I understand it, the idea of “a[n] homosexual” as an identity is a comparatively recent one anyway – perhaps as recent as the Victorians. Before that people tended to show a preference – often a marked one – for their own sex or for the opposite, but that didn’t really define them.

  5. But someone with that gene complex would …

    Yes … But you clearly didn’t understand what I was trying to say. If the gene complex is beneficial as a whole and, as a side effect, moves carriers towards the gay end of the sex spectrum then it will continue.

    Also, the continued presence in the human race of genetic-cause early onset diseases means that your “one in ten thousandth” argument is clearly flawed if not actually wrong.

    Interestingly, the one thing that non-(XX/XY) sex chromosome combinations has been comprehensively shown to be strongly correlated with is (unsuccessful) criminality.

  6. Surreptitious Evil – “Yes … But you clearly didn’t understand what I was trying to say. If the gene complex is beneficial as a whole and, as a side effect, moves carriers towards the gay end of the sex spectrum then it will continue.”

    No I think I did. It is not enough that it is beneficial. It has to be at least as beneficial as not having it. If it is beneficial, but gene lines without it have one ten thousandth of a child more in each generation, the gene will slowly disappear.

    “Also, the continued presence in the human race of genetic-cause early onset diseases means that your “one in ten thousandth” argument is clearly flawed if not actually wrong.”

    That depends on the disease. The analogy that people are probably thinking of is sickle cell anemia. And yes, if you have one gene from one parent, you have an advantage when it comes to malaria. If you have two from each parent, you will die. The advantage it gives is strong enough for the mutation to survive. But if you moved that population in to a low-malaria region it would be slowly bred out.

    “Interestingly, the one thing that non-(XX/XY) sex chromosome combinations has been comprehensively shown to be strongly correlated with is (unsuccessful) criminality.”

    I find that surprising. You sure it isn’t a product of the testing of criminals?

  7. SMFS: “In sum, gender identity, whether consistent or inconsistent with other sex characteristics, may be understood to be “much less a matter of choice and much more a matter of biology” (Coolidge et al., 2000). The scientific evidence supports the paradigm that transsexualism is strongly associated with the neurodevelopment of the brain (Zhou et al., 1995; Kruijver et al., 2000). It is clear that the condition cannot necessarily be overcome by “consistent psychological socialisation as male or female from very early childhood” and it is not responsive to psychological or psychiatric treatments alone (Green, 1999). It is understood that during the fetal period the brain is potentially subject to the organising properties of sex hormones (Kruijver et al., 2000; 2001; 2002; 2003). In the case of transsexualism, these effects appear to be atypical, resulting in sex-reversal in the structure of the BSTc, and possibly other, as yet unidentified, loci (Kruijver, 2004). The etiological pathways leading to this inconsistent development almost certainly vary from individual to individual, so no single route is likely to be identified. Different genetic, hormonal and environmental factors, acting separately or in combination with each other, are likely to be involved in influencing the development of the psychological identification as male or female. Psychosocial factors and cultural mores are likely to impact on outcomes (Connolly, 2003).”

    Genetic is one of the factors. Source here, taken from here, which has lots of other useful links. The blog author spontaneously began to change sex in her early 40s. It’s a rare but known condition.

    I came across this when Tim Blair linked to her site a few years ago. She’s a conservative, which makes things less clubby between her and some LGBT types. It certainly made me revise my view of the whole thing.

  8. No I think I did. It is not enough that it is beneficial. It has to be at least as beneficial as not having it.

    No you didn’t. Which is why I said “is beneficial as a whole” the second time around. I’m probably being too technical and you are being inappropriately reductive (note – a ‘beneficial gene complex’ is assumed to be “beneficial as a whole” even though some of the individual effects are harmful or, for complexes where there are identified individual gene components, an individual gene version is harmful.)

    You sure it isn’t a product of the testing of criminals?

    It is a result but not a product of testing. There is enough information about the general population incidence to allow a comparison versus the prison population. There may be a confounding factor in that most non-standard combinations express as male, as are most prisoners.

  9. Why is there still a debate over the existence of a gay Gene?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Kelly

    Joking aside, I find this whole debate bizarre when there’s such a simple explanation – albeit that the explanation is unpalatable to many. All the contradictions and problems are very neatly resolved by the theory that we’re all naturally bisexual and that both homo- and hetero-sexuality are psychological disorders, presumably caused by upbringing and societal pressure to conform.

  10. Dearieme>

    “How did ageing come to evolve?”

    There’s a common misconception that natural selection selects for advantage. It doesn’t. Rather it deselects for disadvantage. Ageing didn’t provide any disadvantage to early man because it was rare to live that long anyway.

  11. It is perfectly possible that a gay gene has an evolutionary advantage, besides any “caring” characteristics (which I don’t think would be enoough, anyway).

    It may be that there is another evolutionary advantage, (more vigorous sperm, say,) which, as a by-product, also produces a proportion of gay humans.

    In the same way, race-horses may be more prone to breaking their legs than cart-horses, this does not mean that fragile legs has an evolutionary advantage.

  12. I believe it’s broadly accepted that personality, health etc are determined by the genetic predisposition you are given at conception modified by environmental influences. There are many people out there with a genetic predisposition that could make them into serial killers, for example, but thankfully only a very few have the kind of appallingly abusive childhood usually required. Similarly lots of people have abusive childhoods and not many end up as Ed Gein. It’s only when you get the intersection at the very far ends of various bell curves that particular combinations come into play.

  13. The other potential explanation I’ve heard for why homosexuality could be genetic is that the genes, in lower doses, make their organism more attractive to the opposite sex. It’s only when some embryo gets a lot of the relevant genes that the evolutionary downside comes into play.

  14. Not genetic but the result of another child having been there – kids conceived after the birth of a male are more likely to be gay. Anecdatally, at least 50% of my younger siblings are.

    Is there a speculative evolutionary argument that could be made for this? No doubt. Could one extend it further to the relative incidence of male and female homosexuality? Maybe one could observe that throughout human history until very recently (and still the case in too many places) a female was much less likely than a male to have been able to enforce a decision not to sleep with someone of the opposite sex. Good luck in separating cause from effect there.

  15. “kids conceived after the birth of a male are more likely to be gay. ”

    One can posit that it’s environmental or genetic – there are possible explanations but little evidence either way. If the type, nature, or amount of maternal attention is a factor in sexuality – as is commonly suggested – then I’d guess at environmental if I had to pick.

    In all likelihood, it’s just that the statistic itself is bollocks. It actually measures how many people admitted they were gay or self-classified as such, rather than the true, unknown number of those who are actually gay. As a result, to suggest that the explanation is simply that those with an older (ostensibly) heterosexual brother find it easier to self-classify as gay and/or admit to doing so is far more plausible than any speculation based on accepting the statistic as an accurate reflection of reality.

  16. Well we could leave the Bindels and Worstalls of this world bumping their gums about this forever more, or we could go and look for some evidence.

    A welter of data on siblings and twins show that the role of genes in homosexual orientation is complicated and far from fully understood—but real. Among noteworthy findings: The concordance of homosexuality for adopted (hence genetically unrelated) siblings is lower than that for biological siblings, which in turn is lower than that for fraternal (nonidentical) twins, which is lower than that for identical twins.

    So yes, there does appear to be a genetic component to the whole thing:
    http://chronicle.com/article/The-Evolutionary-Mystery-of/135762/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

  17. Is there a ‘don’t like sprouts’ gene? About as interesting.

    Seriously, if we ever find a genetic basis to homosexuality it won’t matter until we get into eugenics – and then we’ve bigger problems anyway.
    If we ever decide there’s no basis, it won’t matter unless legislation is (still?) based on the subjective judgements of a moral majority rather than the practicalities of stabilising large societies. In which case we have bigger problems anyway…

  18. Larry>

    Again, that assumes that the nature and amount of parental attention is independent of sibling type. It’s pretty clear that it isn’t, at least in some cases – for instance, twins obviously normally require a split in parental attention at a young age.

  19. It is quite plausible that the genetic composition (it isn’t one gene it is a combination of them if it exists) has a multiplicity of effects, one of which is homosexuality and another (or others) aid survival or success.
    Modern writers (mostly female) have interpreted the Sacred Band of Thebes, the Spartans, Alexander, and other Greek heroes as being homosexual or, at best, bisexual. I, personally, think this is a misinterpretation but it seems at least some of these heroes were bisexual. In my view the Pelopennesian War was the main reason why the Spartans had virtually died out by the time of the Roman invasion of Greece (the army defeated by the Romans were mostly hoplites because there were not enough Spartans left) but if homosexuality was rife that would be an alternative explanation.

  20. Homosexuality could well just be one of those things that happens in the process of passing on the genes. It’s a fallacy, still widely believed, that evolution is goal-directed, and designed to perfectly logical outcomes, with everything optimally adapted to produce traits that favour survival (nb, that is not intended to describe homosexuals as sub-optimal.) Evolution is random, messy and doesn’t have goals. See, most famously, Stephen Jay Gould, ‘The Panda’s Thumb’; see also male nipples.

  21. @Chris
    I don’t know anyone who thinks that “evolution is goal-directed, and designed to perfectly logical outcomes” – my college Communist was too intelligent (he got a first in Maths and ended up as a Professor at Bordeaux) for that.

  22. Aaaargh!!!!
    I typed “hoplites” for “”helots”
    Crawls back under stone.
    Even worse because the helots were, just this once, acting as hoplites.

  23. “Of course: whether it’s all about genes, development or simple and pure personal choice makes no damn difference to civil liberties. “

    This is the most important point from a political point of view.

    Some things are unnatural yet don’t harm others in any way, some things are natural and still very wrong.

  24. On the other hand (courtesy of Tim Blair), there is this:

    “Transethnic/transabled
    People who describe themselves as transethnic believe they are a person of different ethnicity to their actual ethnicity living inside their body. So, for example, a white girl may claim she’s actually a black woman living inside a white woman’s body.
    Transabled people claim the same thing but with disabilities. So someone with perfect vision may claim they’re actually a blind person living inside a normal person’s body.”

  25. The other problem with any “gay gene” theory is the implicit assumption that the brain is hardwired to the level of detail as to eoncode complex concepts like “gender” (what we used to call “sex”), which seems astonishingly unlikely. It basically means noun concept encoding.

    It is the same as implying that a baby is born knowing what a tit is, a mother is, a nipple is, and so on. But (so far as I can tell) it doesn’t. It has to learn what a tit is, what a mother is, and what a nipple is. All it has is some very basic physical reflexes, which are encoded as preliminary wiring of the “low level” nervous system; if you feel something in your mouth, activate suckling action. Learning that the big soft pink or brown thing produces some tasty fluid is a learning thing. A baby knows not what milk is until it experiences it.

    Likewise, it is highly implausible that a person can be born knowing about gender. One may as well imply that a mutation could cause somebody to be born knowing what a railway station is, or with a reflexive understanding of GDP and the balance of payments. There just isn’t room in the genome for such detail, and even if there were the enormous times it would take for such a “wiring diagram” to develop the correct mutations would render it evolutionarily impossible.

    Nobody thinks that gentlemen are born preferring blondes, or being whipped on the bottom, or youngsters, or being smeared with taramasalata while Bachman Turner Overdrive play in the background. DJ’s have to learn all that. There is no reason to distinguish homosexuality from any other sexual (or other) preference.

    It is acquired. Some people don’t like it at all, some people dabble, some people prefer and some people want nothing else. Much like blondes (or, dare we say, youngsters?). Like many tastes, it is hard to change once developed. I wasn’t born with a Jaffa Cake gene, but I think the chances of me ever stopping lusting for them are negligible.

    The problem is that the ideologists have decided that homosexuality, alone among sexual tastes, is effectively essentialist (in a Platonic sense). It’s something you are rather than something you do or something you prefer. This leads to all sorts of nonsense. But, it’s currently dogma, so we all pretend it’s true.

  26. Larry-

    So yes, there does appear to be a genetic component to the whole thing:

    This is ignoring the high probability of a third variable explanation, the third variable being base personality types (which are set by relatively crude, general parameters of the brain such as neurotransmitter levels, etc). For instance, if extroverts are more likely to be lead singers than introverts, and introverts are more likely to be bass players than extroverts, that doesn’t justify saying that there are lead singer, bass player, rhythm guitarist, drummer etc genes.

  27. Ian B>

    Talking of a third variable, people mention genetics and nurture, but no-one ever wonders if maybe the parents just had sex wrong.

  28. There is actually a relatively common mechanism able to explain it. You have two copies of most of your genes (unless you are male and the gene is on ther X chromosome). If there is a rare allele (variant) of a gene that when you have only one gives you an advantage (e.g. understanding the psychology of women) but when you have two makes you gay, then there is a selective advantage to having the gene up until the point when there is a significant probability of meeting somebody else with the same gene.

    The most familiar example of this mechanism is the gene for sickle cell anaemia. If you have only one, you’re immune to malaria. Having two such genes causes the disease.

    Similarly, the gay-male gene could give *women* with the gene a selective advantage larger than the disadvantage resulting from having more gay male descendants. There are many possibilities for indirect advantage.

    There is an argument that aging evolved to kill off a reservoir for parasites and diseases. Parasites evolve to break into our immune systems, and reproduction is essentially a way to ‘change all the locks’ at regular intervals to keep ahead of them. Each generation is different enough to keep it a moving target, so the parasites have to rely on general strategies. Having more old folks around slows the target down, and allows deadlier viruses to evolve. It’s like having a computer network with a bunch of unpatched, unprotected Windows NT machines with IE6 on them still on it. You have to kill off the obsolete tech, or it provides a reservoir from which the bugs can develop and spread.

    There is indeed a gene for not liking sprouts. Some people can taste substances that other people can’t. For example, some people find phenylthiocarbamide to taste bitter, while others can’t taste it at all. Sprouts contain some of these sorts of chemicals. Google ‘supertasters’ for more.

    The brain *is* hardwired to identify and respond to sex (or at least, to acquire such responses), like baby birds are hardwired to respond to mother birds. However, some of these recognition circuits are not very sophisticated or accurate, and the result is baby birds will often imprint on crude puppets with only a vague resemblance to the real thing, and humans can get sexual kicks from behaviours of no evolutionary value whatsoever. It’s a sort of signalling error, like crossed wires, or a software bug, in which pressing the doorbell also turns the cooker on and off. The wiring only has to make certain behaviours *more likely* – perfection is not required, or indeed, ever achieved.

  29. if maybe the parents just had sex wrong

    There aren’t many ‘wrong’ ways to do sex. Unless of course you are an orthodox Catholic in which case they are all wrong :)

    But most of the ways that are, even in your (generic not personal) wildest delusions could be considered to be ‘wrong’, they’re not going to lead to babies.

  30. “How did ageing come to evolve?” – to allow room for the later, better generations – that’s what they reckon.

    If we did not age then we would live forever, the newer improved generation would not be able to establish itself and the race would not improve, kinda makes sense in a godless darwinian sort of a way.

    It seems to us mortals that a few decades is not enough life, but that span has been tested by natural selection and may well be in some manner optimal for the race.

    If this explanation of ageing is correct, then it implies that ageing is an actual property of organisms rather than a limit to perfection, and that as such it could perhaps be removed and we might live forever – our genes live forever, why not us?

  31. There is indeed a gene for not liking sprouts.

    Well no there isn’t. There’s a gene that changes the perception of a certain chemical; simple stuff, one sensor. Sprouts just happen to contain it. Like the coriander tastes soapy gene.

    Likewise, imprinting is a very low level, basic, “follow the big thing” bit of wiring, which is why baby birds can imprint on wellington boots and fighter aircraft. They know nothing of mothers. It’s not an error. It’s the simple system working fine with an unexpected input.

    So, if there’s a “gay” gene, it has to be something pretty basic. People never discuss what that mechanism actually is; they take something very complex (“gender”) and then just say “oh, there’s a gene for it”. Humans aren’t born knowing anything about gender. They have to learn it. Distinguishing gender is a difficult task (body shape, facial bone structure). Even to those of us who have spent years learning, many men look like elderly lesbians. So, what’s the mechanism?

    So, here’s a suggestion: prior to puberty, the brain’s sex organ is basically switched off. The rest of the brain has no inputs from it. Children learn to distinguish gender, but the sex inputs are not connected to that. Then it switches on under hormonal control, and now the brain has to integrate signalling to and from it. It starts an imprinting process, like baby birds. And if it doesn’t get the right stimuli, it imprints on the wrong thing, like baby birds- if it’s at public school it might see so few women, and be so regularly buggered by previous wrong-imprinters, it imprints on boys. Or it might imprint on children, animals, wellington boots or fighter jets. Which might be why more puritan societies or social classes tend to be full of pooves.

    Or not. It’s more plausible than a gene all on its own for gayness though, isn’t it?

  32. Ian>

    “prior to puberty, the brain’s sex organ is basically switched off.”

    Don’t know about others, but mine certainly wasn’t.

  33. “Well no there isn’t. There’s a gene that changes the perception of a certain chemical; simple stuff, one sensor. Sprouts just happen to contain it.”

    This is an empty distinction. No gene is ‘for’ a specific characteristic in the sense that it knows about it. Genes have effects. If it has that effect, then it’s a gene ‘for’ that, whether it was ‘intended’ or not.

    There are separate circuits for responding to males and females, and one of the circuits is removed by an early pulse of hormones in the womb. If the wrong circuit gets removed, the person grows up gay when it’s finally connected to the sexual response. There are drugs that if given to a pregnant mother will have the same effect.

    I think the public schoolboy effect (if it isn’t pure prejudice) is more likely to be reporting bias. Those brought up in a culture where it is widely accepted are less inclined to hide it.

    It’s true the circuit doesn’t have to be particularly discriminating, so long as whatever characteristic it picks up reliably separates the sexes. And part of the identification is indeed learned – characteristics reliably associated with it also trigger it. (e.g. conventional clothing.)

    But there’s nothing implausible about a gene for gayness. The fact that gays have very similar characteristics, independent of culture, tends to suggest it as the more likely explanation.

  34. There are separate circuits for responding to males and females, and one of the circuits is removed by an early pulse of hormones in the womb.

    Really? A newborn five minutes out of the womb can differentiate male and female? You’re sure about that?

    The major problem with all this is that there is a whole sliding scale of “orientation”, from pure gay to pure straight and everything in between; plus, switching teams is commonplace. Which fits better onto an acquired taste model than a hardwired binary model.

    And then we must remember that when brought up in a sufficiently abnormal environment (such as Victorian England at the height of the Puritan terror), people can fail to form any proper sexual responses at all. John Ruskin being a very famous example. We seem to be seeing something similar and even weirder at the moment, with people imprinting on imaginary things like aliens, furries, dickgirls, women so Photoshopped as to barely resemble the real thing (this appears to have been Ruskin’s problem), Michellle Obama’s arms, etc.

    All of which suggests that gender orientation is just one aspect of the sexual imprinting process, and no more genetic than being a furry or breast expansion fetishist.

  35. “Really? A newborn five minutes out of the womb can differentiate male and female?”

    No, no more than a newborn baby can walk or talk. But the brain structures that will eventually lead to those behaviours are already set.

    People have tried training and aversion therapy and so on, with little success. Parents have tried to keep their children innocent, with little success. Heterosexuality is clearly genetic. Why shouldn’t faults in the system be?

  36. So, here’s a suggestion: prior to puberty, the brain’s sex organ is basically switched off.

    No, actually, it isn’t. It is active for around the first 2 years (may be 18 months), then quiescent then turns back on again with the catastrophic consequences we all lived through.

  37. Heterosexuality is clearly genetic.

    I’m not so sure. Thought experiment. Imagine bringing up a group of single-gender children in an entirely single gender environment, on an island perhaps. Say, females. All the adults are females. Males are never mentioned; no literature, no art, nothing. They don’t exist. Have the adults be sexually “lesbian”. Do not introduce any concept of gender. Human and female are synonymous.

    How would the youngsters develop? If it’s genetic, only a tiny percentage would have sexual relationships. Do you think that would be the case, and they would yearn for some other alternative about which they know nothing? And now, suppose one day, out of the blue, you tell them the truth and bring some males. Would the 95% now find them attractive? Or would they be repulsed by these mutant, ugly humans with their to0-bulky skeletons and hairy faces?

    It does not seem plausible to me that they would be heterosexual in defiance of the world as they know it. Heterosexual would literally have no meaning. In such an environment, it would be impossible to be heterosexual.

    Having typed all that, it’s probably (sadly) clearer if you imagine it as boys rather than girls. Would the 95%+ sit around in celibacy, pining for the girls they know nothing about? Or would they fuck each other? I think they’d fuck each other. That’s what they seem to do anyway in single-sex environments. Which, I would contend, is why in severley Puritan cultures (some Christian, and Islam, etc) sodomy is both despised and endemic.

  38. Peter Risdon @27: There’s a difference between being transgendered and being a tosspot, which is where those types fit in.

  39. Tim,

    I would suggest that generic heritability of such a trait could be accounted for through epigenetics—a branch of biology that studies how environmental factors can change the expression of genes.

    DK

  40. “Would the 95% now find them attractive?”

    Quite possibly. Although it may be like language, in that it requires stimulation to get the genetic mechanisms to develop. Most things are a mixture of nature and nurture.

    Suppose you bring up a bunch of male and female kids in an entirely sex-free environment. No cultural history. No explanation. No mention. No pictures. No encouragement. Can you imagine them not figuring it out for themselves?

    How about animals – rabbits can’t draw one another diagrams, or write in to magazines. But if you get baby rabbits as pets and don’t separate the sexes you’ll soon end up with lots of rabbits. Can rabbits really be all that much smarter than people? How ever do they figure it out?

    “Would the 95%+ sit around in celibacy, pining for the girls they know nothing about? Or would they fuck each other?”

    Why involve other people? Or people specifically, rather than other objects? The equipment works perfectly well all on its own, you know.

    Or you could ask a dog. It’s amazing what they can get attached to.

  41. Ian B>

    Your thought extent has some chilling parallels in what transgender people must go through. Can you imagine growing up in a society that doesn’t even have words for what you are? That tells you it’s he or she and nothing in between? It’s hardly surprising that surgery and chemical treatment little better than mutilation is considered an option to try and resolve the desperate conflicts such people must feel.

  42. so why are there left handed people then. Long before writing and swords too.
    And why has not evolution made all men incredibly handsome? That would spur things on.

  43. Peter Risdon – “Transabled people claim the same thing but with disabilities. So someone with perfect vision may claim they’re actually a blind person living inside a normal person’s body.”

    There is a very small community of people who believe they are dead. As problems go, this one is, I would guess, usually self-solving. But an interesting one none the less.

    There is a slightly larger community who believe they have too many limbs. A problem you can have solved on the NHS, at least has been solved in Ediburgh on the NHS. They cut the offending limb off. I doubt that is a genuine solution though.

  44. Larry – “The concordance of homosexuality for adopted (hence genetically unrelated) siblings is lower than that for biological siblings, which in turn is lower than that for fraternal (nonidentical) twins, which is lower than that for identical twins. So yes, there does appear to be a genetic component to the whole thing”

    Umm, Larry, identical twins who happen to be Gay are not that common. Fraternal twins who happen to be Gay are also not that common. Adopted children may have suffered trauma which might incline them to being Gay.

    You are dealing with tiny populations – often with a strong ideological motivation on behalf of both the researcher and the subject – and ignoring other factors. I would not read too much into such studies without asking some serious questions – is the researcher Gay and an activist? Did he advertise for Gay twins in the Gay press? Was it obvious what he wanted when he did? And so on.

  45. SB – “If the wrong circuit gets removed, the person grows up gay when it’s finally connected to the sexual response. There are drugs that if given to a pregnant mother will have the same effect.”

    Sorry but could you please name for me the drugs that will make an unborn foetus Gay? Given the level of research into this, would it be too much to ask for some references for this?

    “But there’s nothing implausible about a gene for gayness. The fact that gays have very similar characteristics, independent of culture, tends to suggest it as the more likely explanation.”

    I agree that there is nothing inherently implausible about a gene for Gayness. If we were sure Gayness existed. But we have looked and we have not found. Which suggests there isn’t.

    And I would politely suggest that there is no common form of homosexuality across the world. Or rather there wasn’t before American cultural imperialism rendered all forms of gay life similar. Even though in much of the (former) Muslim world (including Hispanic culture) there is a huge difference between the active and passive partner unknown in Anglo-American homosexuality. In South-East Asia there is a culture of cross dressing that is not like the West’s homosexuality at all, or wasn’t before Americans convinced them otherwise.

    In fact there wasn’t even any homosexuality before it was medicalised. In the past some people committed homosexual acts. Only in the 19th century did it become a disorder they had and then an identity they were. Even today men in prison aren’t Gay. They are just deprived of sex.

    And perhaps that is the best model – our genes tell us to have sex with pretty women; if none, then less pretty women; if none, then girls; if none, then young men; if none, then sheep. For some people they receive a childhood trauma that puts them off women for life.

  46. Dave – “Can you imagine growing up in a society that doesn’t even have words for what you are? That tells you it’s he or she and nothing in between? It’s hardly surprising that surgery and chemical treatment little better than mutilation is considered an option to try and resolve the desperate conflicts such people must feel.”

    I think you have got the wrong end of the stick. Because transgendered people after surgery and chemical treatment are hardly shining examples of stable people by and large. Their lobbies put this down to transphobia – but as much as I like blaming Julie Bindel, I am not convinced. It is more likely that we *still* do not have the words for what is wrong with them. We simply continue to simplistically assume it is a gender problem.

  47. SMFS>

    Yes, that’s what I was getting at. These people are (mostly) deeply screwed-up as a result of the preconceptions others hold so strongly that our language doesn’t contain words to think the concepts with.

  48. No, no more than a newborn baby can walk or talk. But the brain structures that will eventually lead to those behaviours are already set.

    Are they? I’d put it to you that all a human has is a physical capacity to carry out those tasks, the same as shooting a bow, using a can opener, picking its nose or reading a book.

    The last one is significant. We know that reading is not genetic. Nobody did it until a few thousand years ago. But a naive person unaware of human history may be so impressed by everyone’s ability to learn how to read that they would conclude thatsome special brain structure must pre-exist. Just as Chomsky insists there must be a special “language organ” because everyone can learn a language.

    But as I said, we know there is no special reading and writing organ in the brain. It is a learned skill.

    Humans have legs. They have nerves controlling the legs, and the ability to acquire reflexes in those nervous system structures, one of which is what we call “walking”. That is all that biology needs. Walking is not pre-programmed, and there is no reason to think there are special “walking genes”. Likewise we have physical structures allowing precise control of breathing and the throat, vocal chords, etc. But babies have to learn to talk. Or sing, and without training they probably won’t do either, though they will make some noises. In fat, parents have to go through a lot of training to teach their young that noises can be associated with things- pointing at things and saying a word, over and over.

    The sex impulse is, mechanically, just down to some nerves and hormones. It has to be associated with stimuli by a learning process. A minor example; many gentlemen prefer blondes. I tend (all else being equal) to prefer the Mediterranean look; dark brunettes like Sophia Loren. Nobody would suggest that I have a Sophia Loren gene, would they?

  49. “But as I said, we know there is no special reading and writing organ in the brain. It is a learned skill.”

    Leaving writing aside, reading is just pattern recognition. That’s clearly genetic. That so many kids teach themselves to read tells us that although it may be a learned skill, it’s a skill which is naturally developed. When you are born you have very little motor control, although that situation rapidly improves. Would you say motor control is not genetic?

    “Humans have legs. They have nerves controlling the legs, and the ability to acquire reflexes in those nervous system structures, one of which is what we call “walking”. That is all that biology needs. Walking is not pre-programmed, and there is no reason to think there are special “walking genes”. ”

    Humans walk because they’re shaped to walk or run. You could bring a baby up in isolation and it would undoubtedly learn to do both because those are the natural ways of moving for the body to use given the placement of joints, muscles, and so-on. Although the skill may not be developed until after birth, it’s clearly genetic.

  50. Dave, that’s the point. These things are only “genetic” in the sense that a general body plan is genetic. My body is so formed that I can clear mucus out of my nose by sticking my finger up it. I would probably have figured that out without any training whatsoever. That doesn’t mean there’s a gene for nose-picking.

    Likewise, we know certainly that there is no “reading” gene or structure, just a general capacity for pattern recognition in the visual cortex (essential for “seeing” and understanding what is seen) and general cognition. Writing and reading are inventions, and recent ones at that. Most people couldn’t do either until very recently, and some people still never learn.

    The question is not whether humans have a natural (and thus, in general terms, “genetic”) sexual capacity and urge. What is at issue is whether the targets of that capacity and urge are pre-programmed.

  51. Ian>

    I’d say that you are very much programmed genetically to pick your nose. It’s no coincidence that your nostril is finger-sized, or that the removal of an irritation in your airway is pleasurable.

    To go back to the walking example of before, the point is that whatever environment you bring the baby up in, it won’t develop the ability to fly.

    One thing we can say for sure is that humans are genetically programmed to feel pleasure when they rub their genitals on things. The pure genital-rubbing urges are undoubtedly genetic. That we then entangle them with all kinds of psychological stuff and call them sex is a rather different matter.

    What I’m trying to get at is that, for example, what we call homosex might well be genetically programmed, whilst ‘being gay’ is a purely psychological condition; that one has genetically programmed urges does not mean one necessarily acts on them.

  52. The mistake is to overlook gene mutation, and that genes can work in twos or groups with protagonist or antagonist effects.

    That means that a particular mutation which is common, can occur at the time of meiosis, conception or subsequent cell division when genetic material replicates. This could include conditions in the womb.

    Also it does not require a specific gene, but maybe a gene missing or one too many.

    Also sexual attraction is complex.

    In the early soup when organisms rather than cloning themselves started exchanging genetic information with those of the same type, the instruction was simple. Find something which looks like you, cozy up to it and exchange .

    That basic evolutionary driver is still there in all of us. In reality animals could mate with anyone whatever sex, but only those who tended to chose opposites are most likely to dominate the species.

    That does not mean that homos will die out because if it is a case of gene mutation or grouping, that will continue and anyway homos often mate with opposites for a variety of reasons and produce little heteros.

  53. “Are they? I’d put it to you that all a human has is a physical capacity to carry out those tasks, the same as shooting a bow, using a can opener, picking its nose or reading a book.”

    Tool use is a specific instinct. Many other animals have the physical capacity to use tools, but they don’t. Many even have the mental capacity too, but so rarely use it that for a long time we believed they didn’t.

    “The last one is significant. We know that reading is not genetic.”

    That’s true. Humans don’t naturally read and write. But they do naturally talk. If children are raised in a foreign culture by parents who don’t understand the language (slaves are the classic case), they’ll invent their own entirely new and grammatically consistent version of the language – called a creole. (Their parent’s language is a pidgin, and is generally grammatically crude and inconsistent.) And if you raise deaf children together, without teaching them to communicate, they’ll invent their own sign language – which will follow the same sorts of grammatical rules as spoken languages.

    It’s built in. There has to be somebody to talk to, and a lot of the specifics are variable, but as a general ability it’s development is universal.

    “Walking is not pre-programmed, and there is no reason to think there are special “walking genes”.”

    Toddlers learn to walk without being taught, and they all do it. But none of them will learn to read without being taught. There are plenty of perfectly normal and frequently intelligent illiterate adults, but there are no dumb adults without there being something medically wrong with them.

    “Likewise we have physical structures allowing precise control of breathing and the throat, vocal chords, etc. But babies have to learn to talk.”

    They have to learn the specifics of a particular language, but it’s far too complex a skill to be learnt by general-purpose learning that quickly. There simply isn’t enough information in the speech they here to deduce the structure, and all the rules and exceptions. It’s one of the reasons we have such difficulty getting AI to do it.

    “In fat, parents have to go through a lot of training to teach their young that noises can be associated with things- pointing at things and saying a word, over and over.”

    That’s just Western culture. There are other cultures where they don’t een bother trying to talk to children until they have something interesting to say. The kids still learn anyway.

    But whatever. If it’s deeply important to you to believe that it couldn’t possibly be genetic, I’m not going to interfere with your freedom of belief. It’s not something that matters to me that much.

  54. Well, I don’t much care either way, other than from a scientific inquisitiveness I’m interested in what the truth is. I do find the insistence on a “gay gene” rather odd, since doing so would mean that it is a genetic disease, like cystic fibrosis. But if gays really want everyone to think they’re disabled mutants, that’s up to them. I’m also interested in how the universe formed and the ontology of quantum mechanics and numerous other scientific puzzles. I’m a nerd, you see.

    Chomsky’s Language Organ is, in my opinion, highly questionable. Even Chomsky has admitted that it does not seem to be compatible with evolution. It is conceivable that a hardwired grammer could arise (though, unnecessary). It is inconceivable how a *universal* grammar organ could arise, since one language structure is quite enough. Most human beings only learn one language, and all languages are adequate to the task of communication. So why evolution would select for a grammar organ that can go noun-verb or verb-noun is hard to see.

    Further, if this universal grammar exists, it should be a relatively simple task to map it. But nobody has. Organists have produced partial, analogical and metaphorical maps of it. But nobody has mapped, or seems able to map, the whole thing. This is suspicious.

    There are two further problems; the first is that our ancestors would have had to wait for mutations before they could pluralise (and in a variety of ways), or add articles, or verb-ise nouns. The second is that the boundary between grammar and vocabulary is fuzzy. Is adding a suffix (e.g. “s”) for pluralisation a grammar thing or a vocabulary thing? What of the numerous irregular rules? “Add an s unless it’s a word derived from greek in which case add an “i”. Is it syllabusses or syllabi?).

    So far as I am aware, no experiment has been done of raising children from birth in an entirely language-free environment; some children have been isolated but generally in such damaging or abused environments that they have been mentally ruined by the experience. Whether they would generate a language, if it could be done, we do not know. Generating a pidgin or creole, in a language-rich environment, is not the same thing.

    Once you associate noises with concepts, some form of “grammar” has to arise, just by concept ordering. “Kick ball” or “ball kick”. Primitive grammars are likely to develop into more complex forms as needs arise. None of which proves Chomsky’s implausible grammar organ. Merely that humans are intelligent, flexible and inventive. Animals are not very bright, and cannot conceptualise tool use, or most other things; they only understand just enough to get by. My cat apparently thinks I’m her mother, and somehow food arrives if she rubs my leg. She’ll never grasp a minute fraction of what a human can grasp, even that I don’t want her to bring me a mouse at 3am.

    Back with children; they live in an immensely experience rich environment. Chomsky’s main argument- the paucity of examples- is a simple fallacy. The error is that children hear very few *perfectly formed* examples, and thus could never form a perfect grammar as defined by a linguist.

    But they rarely do form a perfect grammar. I never done it either, in fact. Which is why we all boldly use split infinitives when the grammar says we shouldn’t. We don’t form a linguist’s ruleset, because we never have one. The linguist’s grammar ruleset is a formalised idealisation which begs the (false) question answered by Chomsky’s organ.

    He’s not much good on politics, either.

  55. I do find the insistence on a “gay gene” rather odd, since doing so would mean that it is a genetic disease, like cystic fibrosis.

    The activist believe it would provide them with unassailable advantages under US DDA case law. Of course, if it did (which it might do), then all the homo-phobe bigots would do is change the law.

  56. “Well, I don’t much care either way, other than from a scientific inquisitiveness I’m interested in what the truth is. I do find the insistence on a “gay gene” rather odd, since doing so would mean that it is a genetic disease, like cystic fibrosis. But if gays really want everyone to think they’re disabled mutants, that’s up to them.”

    I don’t really care either, except from the scientific/intellectual point of view.

    But I am quite clear on the point it isn’t a ‘disease’. (Nor would it be any more or less a disease if it was accidentally acquired through imprinting.) I make no value judgements on it – it’s simply a consequence of the way people (and many other animals) are built.

    Biology is a bodge, which is most of the time sufficiently good to work. The mamalian is wired up backwards – with the light-sensitive retina *behind* the nerves and blood vessels that supply it. The co-directional flow of blood and air in mammalian lungs is a lot less efficient than the contra-flow in bird lungs. The recurrent phanyngeal nerve takes a lunatic route from the spinal column in the neck down in to the chest cavity, loops around the heart, and then back up the neck to control the voicebox. Even in a giraffe. Are these genetic “diseases”? No, they’re “normal”. There’s nothing that says that built-in features or behaviours have to be sensible, only that they work *sufficiently* well, for some value of ‘sufficiently’. Homosexuality is likely an ‘unintended’ consequence of some otherwise sensible feature – it’s too much a universal across species to be no more than a recent accidental mutation, soon to evolve out.

    And although I personally have no inclination that way at all, I don’t have any problem with it either – indeed, far less than I have a problem with some people’s apparently natural tendency to become left-wing authoritarians. (Is that a ‘disease’?) Homosexuality seems an innocent enough difference in comparison, like liking sprouts. The species is in no danger because of their existence.

    The term ‘disease’ to me implies suffering and risk of death, and it has always seemed to me that any suffering was more due to the intolerance of others, rather than being inherent in that particular condition. Thus, intolerance is arguably the ‘genetic disease’, and homosexuality more a personal quirk like blue eyes or brown skin. That such things are genetic does not by itself imply any particular value judgement about them.

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