Horizon: What’s the problem with nudity?

A few months ago, I had a bit of a ‘go‘ at the Horizon two-parter How Mad Are you? because I was unclear what science it was actually exploring.  I came to the conclusion that it was a good piece of social programming, and that it could only have beneficial consequences in terms of stigma, but that I really didn’t see why it had been broadcast as part of the BBC’s premier science strand.  It didn’t concentrate enough on hard-nosed science to warrant the inclusion, in my opinion.

Well, it seems they were just getting started.  On Tuesday, Horizon broadcast a programme, What’s the Problem with Nudity? (available on the iPlayer here), that aimed to answer the questions: what is wrong with nudity; why are people embarrassed about their bodies; how and why did they get the way they are?  Their method of investigating these issues was to lock a bunch of ‘ordinary people’ in a house in London, and make them wander around the place with their kit off, doing embarrassing things.

Now I don’t know about you, but even without having seen the programme, I had an idea I could answer the three questions they’d posed fairly easily:

What is wrong with nudity?  Nothing, although you might at times find that it gets a little draughty round the Trossachs

Why are people embarrassed about their bodies?  Because there are social taboos against nudity.

How and why did they get the way they are?  Because in growing up we all adopt the prevailing social taboos.

To be fair to Horizon, they interpreted the last question in more general terms than I’d expected.  As well as looking at how people had become embarrassed about public nudity, they also answered the question in terms of why human being evolved away from having fur in the first place.  This way of looking at the question did allow them to do some proper science reporting.

To summarise very briefly, the currently prevailing theory is that there was an evolutionary advantage in being able to sweat (we are apparently a lot sweatier than other primates), because it means we can dissipate the heat generated by our large brains.  This in turn gave rise to an evolutionary advantage in losing fur, because fur (like clothing) limits the effectiveness of sweating.  At the usual incremental-changes-over-millennia pace, this led to our ancestors gradually becoming hairless.  This theory seems to have been partly confirmed by genetic analysis of lice, which has shown that the lice that live in the fur of chimpanzees and the lice that live in human hair diverged into separate species well before the emergence of modern humans.

This was all very interesting (well, ok, interesting if you’re me – people who get out and about a bit more might be less fascinated by lice…).  I was slightly less certain about the method the programme-makers used to illustrate it, which was to make two of the volunteers (one clothed and the other naked) stand in front of a massive electric fire with a fan playing over them, and then film them with a thermal imaging camera to show how they were handling the heat.  The trouble was that, in addition to the thermal images, there was also a lot of footage shot with a normal camera, and although they weren’t dwelling on the genitalia, the full-frontal approach left nothing to the imagination.  This highlighted what was, for me, one of the major problems with the programme.

Even if you accept that it was necessary to show naked skin sweating in order to illustrate the point (and I’m not sure I do), there was absolutely no need for the guy sweating to be completely naked.  Exactly the same point could have been made if he’d been allowed to keep his underpants on, so the full-frontal nudity was completely gratuitous.  Now, I know there’s a lot of focus at the moment on how to make science more interesting and appealing, and documentary makers are part of the discussion.  You could, I guess, take the view that, by smuggling some hard science in under the cover of a promise of lots of gratuitous nudity, the BBC were helping to broaden the reach of their science programming.  Also, I’m really not a prude, and nudity doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  If there had been lots of good science reporting happening with naked people involved, that would have been fine by me.  The problem is that the naked people had the effect of deflecting attention away from the science, to the point where there was precious little science left.

The limited emphasis on science was reflected, I thought, in the fact that, for the bulk of the programme, they concentrated on some fairly dubious psychological experiments without, and this is the key problem, bothering to highlight the problems and limitations of those experiments.  A good example of this occurred in the section of the programme that was looking at the reasons for the evolution of hairlessness.  Before moving on to the sweat-related theory, the programme noted that Charles Darwin’s hypothesis had been that human ancestors had been more attracted to less hairy mates, and that over time this repeated sexual preference had led to the eradication of most body hair.  The first thing that struck me about this hypothesis was that it was unprovable – unless someone invents a time machine, there’s no way of witnessing the breeding habits of extinct species.  The programme did note, however, that some ‘evolutionary psychologists’ had begun to examine the issue, and had designed an experiment that the Horizon volunteers were invited to take part in.

In this experiment, the subjects were shown a sequence of pictures of male torsos, some of which had body hair, and some of which did not.  The subjects were then asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how attractive they found each torso.  The ‘twist’ to the experiment was that each torso appeared twice, once with hair, and once after being shaved, which should mean that it’s possible to adjust the results to take account of the effect that factors other than hairiness (body type, age etc) might have on the scores.  The experiment found that, on average, the Horizon volunteers preferred hairless torsos to hairy ones.  If I understood right, the formal academic experiment is still ongoing, and has not yet published any analysis of its results, but the Horizon voice-over drew the provisional conclusion that there was a marked preference for hairlessness, and implied that this supported the assertion that repeated expressions of sexual preference were, in part, responsible for the evolution of hairlessness.  As far as I can see, that implication was entirely wrong.

Any experiment carried out in the present day can only capture present-day responses.  In other words, all this experiment can ever hope to show is whether or not contemporary human beings prefer hairless men.  There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the ‘ideal body type’ for women is heavily influenced by the media, and that the use of exceptionally tall and thin models in fashion, especially, has had the effect of shifting this ‘ideal’ away from the more voluptuous curves of 1950s film stars to the ‘size zero’ body type that is celebrated today.  It seems to me that, if the presumed ‘ideal’ of the female form can be affected in this way, the presumed ‘ideal’ of the male form will be equally susceptible to change.  This would mean that the preference for hairless men isn’t some time-immemorial constant that has been driving evolution since before the dawn of the human species, but is rather a very short-term reflection of the types of men that have been celebrated as attractive in contemporary culture.  It would seem as though this might be borne out by the fact that male ‘heartthrobs’ of the 1970s (e.g. Tom Jones) tended to be considerably more hairy than their 2000s counterparts (e.g. Brad Pitt).

I know very little about ‘evolutionary psychology’ (in fact, I hadn’t even heard of it until I watched this programme), but I do worry that the entire basis of the discipline might be a little shaky.  Given that there are, by definition, no records of the psychology of extinct species, and no way of carrying out observations of them because they no longer exist, it seems to me that all an ‘evolutionary psychologist’ will be able to do is speculate, on the basis of responses by modern humans, what might have driven early hominids to behave in particular ways.  These speculations would seem to be of limited benefit, given that an experiment intended to look at sexual preference for hairlessness across millions of years and multiple species is apparently unable to rule out the possibility that its data may have been contaminated by social changes occurring across only 30 years, and within only one species.

This same problem of treating socially-determined phenomena as though they are unchanging constants seemed to be something that had affected the thinking of all the ‘evolutionary psychologists’ who had taken part in the programme.  One such person was Professor Dan Fessler, who the programme-makers presented as being able to provide the answer to one of their fundamental questions: why are people embarrassed about their bodies?

Professor Fessler began by speculating that embarrassment is what people experience when they break a social taboo in a minor way, for example as a result of brief, inappropriate nudity, and that it is one end of an emotional spectrum at the opposite end of which are the severe feelings of shame that people experience when they violate a taboo in a more important way, for example through sexual infidelity.  He went on to suggest that feelings of shame are associated with sexual infidelity because a disruption of the pair-bond between two parents impacts on their ability to care for their offspring.  Finally, Professor Fessler proposed that, since public displays of nudity would represent enhanced temptations to sexual infidelity, the embarrassment associated with nudity is part and parcel of the social taboo against unfaithfulness.

It seemed to me that there are two main problems with this hypothesis.  Firstly, it’s based on the presumption that nakedness enhances sexual temptation.  Secondly, it assumes that having multiple sexual partners will disrupt the rearing of offspring.

The weakness of the first of these presumptions was actually demonstrated by the programme itself, although they didn’t explicitly draw the connection.  By means of an eye-tracking experiment on two of their volunteers, the programme-makers established that, regardless of whether they were faced with a clothed or unclothed body, the ‘natural’ instinct of human beings is to look primarily at the shoulders, hips, and waist, rather than at the genitalia, or secondary sexual organs.  In other words, visual perception of sexual desirability seems not to be related to the visibility or otherwise of the genitalia, but rather to assessments of other body parts that can be made regardless of whether or not the body is clothed.  The programme also speculated that differences in scent between individuals may affect how desirable they seem.  Needless to say, if judgments of sexual attractiveness are not based on the presence or absence of nudity, then it cannot be assumed that embarrassment regarding nakedness is related to shame about provoking sexual infidelity.

There are also, it seems to me, a number of problems with the second presumption.  For example,  why is it necessarily the case that, if a male is involved in a sexual relationship with more than one female, his children by previous partners will no longer be cared for?  This assumes that children can only access food and shelter as a result of their association with their father.  This might, perhaps, be true in a society based upon autonomous family units, but in a tribal society, in which resources are shared equally between all members of the tribe, it would seem not to apply.  It is worth bearing in mind that humans, and our precursor species, lived in tribal structures for a lot longer than we have lived in families.  This would seem to be a prime example of the kind of difficulties that can arise if (comparatively) short-term social structures like autonomous family units are presumed to be constant across evolutionary timescales.

I should probably stress that my objection isn’t that these theories were included in the first place – given that they are being promoted by a professor at a university as prestigious as UCLA, it would probably count as irresponsible not to include them.  My problem is that the programme-makers didn’t emphasise that such theories are currently (and likely to remain) unsubstantiated, and that there are other plausible explanations for the same phenomena.  I think it’s always regrettable when popular explanations of science don’t draw a distinction between the wilder hinterlands of speculation and established fact.  It helps to encourage the view that all science is as vague and uncertain, and that, therefore, there’s no reason not to believe that, for example, being massaged with lavender oil is as good a way to combat cancer as having chemotherapy.

As with the How Mad are You? two-parter, I didn’t entirely hate this programme.  I may complain about their lack of emphasis on what I think of as ‘hard science’, but Horizon documentaries are at least always intelligent, and thought-provoking.  As such, they make a nice contrast to the kind of schlock-horror shows, like Catastrophe, that pass for science programming on Channel 4.  It’s always good, as well, to see a science programme explain an aspect of evolution without feeling the need to mention the ‘debate’ with creationists.  There’s been a lot of coverage of evolution in recent years, but almost all of it has been framed in terms of its ‘conflict’ with religion, not its ability to answer such a wide range of scientific questions.

Probably the thing I disliked most about the programme was the same thing that I disliked about the mental illness programmes – the way they used a ‘reality TV’ approach.  The nudity programme included lots of voiceovers saying things like ‘Our volunteers have never taken their clothes off in public before, let alone in front of a TV camera.  How will they cope?’, and it seems to me that it wasn’t encouraging scientific curiosity so much as it was voyeurism, and a particularly nasty kind of voyeurism that ‘gets off’ on the fact that the person stripping isn’t a willing exhibitionist.  The voyeurism charge would seem particularly hard to sidestep with the section in which people were instructed to undress without realising that they were being secretly watched by another volunteer.  The participants were asked about how the experience had made them feel, but there was absolutely no attempt to explore their discomfort in scientific or psychological terms.

The overarching justification for the nudity was that it enabled the programme-makers to explore the taboos that surround the subject.  In a sense this was true, but I’m not certain a televised ‘experiment’ was necessary in order to demonstrate that people feel embarrassed taking their clothes off in front of strangers.  I would suggest that something like this was self-evident enough not to have needed demonstrating in the first place.  The only point at which I felt that nudity was scientifically justified was during the eye-tracking experiment, as without naked as well as clothed volunteers it wouldn’t have been possible to establish what effect nudity has on where people look.

The nudity was perhaps justified in another sense, in that it presented an opportunity to look at what ‘normal’ people look like naked, and to be reminded that the kind of people who are normally shown naked, like film stars and porn performers, have bodies that are highly unusual.  The point was demonstrated with particular clarity with reference to women, as the programme included some shots filmed in a pole-dancing club, but there was also plenty of scope to reflect on the fact that the average size of male genitalia is rather smaller than the donkey-shaming appendages that appear in pornography would suggest.

As far as I’m concerned, the programme will have done a very positive thing if it goes even some way to helping to persuade ‘average’ people that it’s the ‘ideal’ models and actors and porn performers who are unusual, not them, and that there’s no reason why they should feel embarrassed or ashamed of their bodies.  But, as with the mental illness programmes’ effect on stigma, it seems to me that, while that justifies the programme on social terms, it doesn’t necessarily justify it’s inclusion within a science strand.  I don’t dispute the good intentions that lie behind programming decisions like these, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wish Horizon could be allowed to concentrate on the straightforward reporting and explanation of science, and leave the social campaigning to other kinds of shows.

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12 Responses to Horizon: What’s the problem with nudity?

  1. Sister Y says:

    If you’re interested in non-dumb evolutionary psychology, get ahold of any paper by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, or, ideally, their book Homicide. Their approach is empirical and their results are more than just speculative stories.

    Fessler seems to be ignoring intersexual competition. It’s not that the raising of children will be somehow negatively affected by infidelity. It’s that, for a male, supporting another man’s child is incredibly damaging in fitness terms. (Some of the evidence for this is that stepchildren are at a much greater risk of murder by a parent than are natural children, and that the presence of a child sired by a previous mate significantly increases the risk of a woman being abused by her current mate.) There isn’t a symmetrical risk for women.

    The sweating hypothesis seems strained in that it needs to explain three separate changes that go in different directions: the loss of hair, the sweating, and the subcutaneous fat layer. Also, hairlessness and sweating aren’t great for moisture regulation. Evolution isn’t about finding the ideal solution to a problem – it works with the tools that present themselves – but the three-part modification seems incredibly unwieldy. The sexual selection hypothesis for hairlessness also seems a bit unlikely. Think of the intermediate stages (less hairy animals among hairy animals). Wouldn’t that just look like a skin disease?

    I’m not sure we should hope to explain nudity taboos in ev psych terms, though, since they’re not on the list of human universals (though “body adornment” and “coyness display” are).

  2. loopykate says:

    I think I’m with you Aethel on every point you make.
    As regards the nudity – sexual infidelity hypothesis you correctly make the point that humans have lived in entirely different ‘communal’ type social/familial structures for a good deal longer than nuclear or even extended families based around pair-bonds and their (biological) offspring. Therefore even ‘intersexual competition’ is of little relevance when the biological father is not the sole or prime carer and in some cases might be of little relevance whatsoever. For example, in certain polygamous Amazonian tribes, men and women will loosely form stable pair bonds and children may be born as a result of such. However, it is accepted that sexual relations may take place outside of these bonds. There is little concern with identifying the biological father. The children are brought up communally by the women (boys around puberty will be ‘initiated’ by men).
    In many matrilineal societies e.g certain Polynesian cultures, it is the mother’s brother who provides for the child and acts as the ‘social father’. The biological father has little input in his own biological offspring.
    Sadly, these cultures are dissappearing as ‘Western’ structures and values become increasingly imposed or appropriated. We are therefore in danger of, (in the near future), basing all our assumptions about human ‘nature’ and behaviour on a very narrow, time bound, historically constructed set of circumstances.
    Proffessor Fessler would have been laughed out the room in the Anthropolgy dept where I once studied (UCL) – by the evolutionary anthropologists as much as the social anthropologists. I am presuming that he was dumbing down his research, Desmond Morris style, for a TV audience.
    (by the way, I haven’t watched the programme so my argument is merely based on your report and reiterating your sound critique!)
    K.x

  3. loopykate says:

    P.S I also was interested in the point made above regarding a male supporting another man’s child being incredibly damaging in ‘firmess terms’. I am right in interpreting this to imply that children/female partners are more at risk of violence/neglect from the male partner were her children to not be his own? This is no doubt backed up by non- human species but again, in cultures where there is little or no ‘shame’ or social stigma attatched to a male rearing another man’s children, the incidence of this type of domestic abuse is negligable (yes I know I should have research and stats to back this up but it’s saturday morning and I’m still in my pyjamas!). Again this is possibly another flawed assumption from a western-style autonomous-family perspective, substantiated perhaps by evidence garnered from such?

  4. loopykate says:

    P.P.S – bit of a Freudian slip I made above – I meant, of course ‘fitness’ not ‘firmness’ terms!!

  5. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    You know that bit you get in cartoons where someone is running along quite happily thinking that there’s solid ground beneath their feet, and then they realise that they’ve run out on to open air, and they lunge desperately for the cliff? I’m having a simillar experience with reference to evolutionary psychology/ anthropology – i thought i had a basic layman’s grasp of it, but now i’m a lot less…sure.

    Sister Y – thanks for the ‘Further Reading’ recommendation – i’d be interested to find out how they manage empirical observations of extinct species. Sorry, i’ve worded that a bit facetiously, but it does seem to be the fundamental stumbling block to me. I can see that, if there are patterns of behaviour shared between other modern primates and humans, that significantly increases the validity of conclusions that are drawn from the data, but there is no getting away from the fact that, for example, Australopithicus is dead, and any comments on his/ her behaviour patterns can, as far as i can see, never be more than informed speculation. (That doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t try and speculate – it’s a fascinating area to think about – but i do think that programmes like Horizon need to be careful to emphasise the difference between informed speculation and directly observed experimental data.)

    I’m afraid i don’t know what ‘fitness terms’ means (this is a key scrabbling for the cliff’s edge moment…). Given that i’m groping in the dark here, what i say may of course be meaningless, but i do wonder if data regarding difficulties between step-parents and children might be a consequence of our current social model (autonomous family units) rather than a trans-historical phenomenon that has affected us and all our ancestor species equally. As i understand it (and, once again, my understanding is limited), there is evidence to suggest that outsiders or interlopers are treated harshly across all primate species. I guess my question remains – would a child of one of the females within a tribal group be considered an outsider, just because their father is having sex with another member of the group?

    I’m not quite clear (we’re heading for the edge of the cliff again) why changes to hairiness, sweating and the subcutaneous fat layer are ‘moving in the opposite direction’ to each other. If all of these changes are driven by the need for increased thermal efficiency, couldn’t they be occuring simultaneously, as a result of the same stressor? (I was probably rather misleading in my original post when i said that increased sweating ‘led to’ a pressure for decreased hairiness, given that the changes are likely to have ocurred in parallel with each other, with each iteration being a little sweatier, and a little less hairy.)

    I take your point about moisture regulation, but to me this suggests that humans and our precursors evolved in an environment where there was easy access to a copious water supply. The need to closely regulate moisture would, i assume, only be an issue for species that don’t have easy access to water. (Hairlessness also suggests, of course, that we evolved in environments where heat was more of a problem than cold was.)

    Think of the intermediate stages (less hairy animals among hairy animals). Wouldn’t that just look like a skin disease?

    It seems to me that the lice data the programme referred to pretty conclusively establishes that the common ancestor of modern chimpanzees and modern humans was covered in fur. In this case, and given that evolution can’t ever have leapt from hairy to non-hairy in a single jump, there simply must have been a period of time in which there were less hairy animals among hairier ones. I guess these kind of weird differences are going to occur every time speciation takes place (i’m always tempted to think of these as abrupt changes, but of course they must have actually taken place over periods of thousands of years). I guess maybe the changes were so subtle as to be largely unnoticeable within the lifetime of a single individual, or at least unnoticeable against the advantages that improved thermal efficiency gave the ‘skin diseased’ individuals.

    loopykate – tsk, i don’t know you wait ages for a comment, and then three turn up all together… ;o)

    I didn’t want to get into talking about alternative social arrangements among other cultures because, basically, i know very little about them, and it’s the kind of area where i’m a little cautious about doing my usual blundering around because its so easy to be inadvertently racist. So thank you for bringing the information to the party. :o) I did suspect that the issue would be very relevant to things like child-rearing arrangements, and it’s interesting to have that confirmed.

    I suspect you’re absolutely right about Professor Fessler having dumbed-down (or been dumbed-down by the programme-makers). I expect that he would have normally hedged what he said with all kinds of caveats and expressions of uncertainty. He was very possibly doing no more than setting out in very broad terms an area he thought it might be interesting to try and research into in the future. I certainly hope i put enough phrases like that ‘he was presented by the programme’ and ‘it seems that’ to indicate that i wasn’t neccesarily having a go at the real work he does on a day-to-day basis. I haven’t read any of his work, so i wouldn’t feel i could even begin to comment on that, only on what he seemed to be saying in the programme itself.

  6. cellar_door says:

    I never thought I’d see you complaining about the presence of naked men on tv ;o)

    I didn’t see it, and the majority of the comments above just sailed over my daft head, but you seem to have a knack for these review-type-things…

  7. Much of the programme was good but the experimental work did not justify some of the conclusions drawn from it. In particular the main conclusion of Professor Fessler seemed driven much more by North American prejudices concerning nudity than by verifiable facts. Indeed his conclusions are flatly contradicted by much anthropological date. Whether that is his fault, the fault of the programme makers or a combination of the two we can’t say.

    We are preparing representations to the BBC and Horizon and we will be publishing a more detailed critique on our web site. I will make a further post here when we have done that for now I will just touch on a few points.

    1. The Finnish experiment on the attractiveness of body hair did not distinguish between learned and innate behaviour. This part of the programme also assumed that natural selection always selected for obvious benefit. I wonder how peacocks feel about that?

    2. The date for divergence of the clothing louse differed markedly from other work I have seen, by a factor of ten.

    3. Professor Fessler’s final conclusion that clothing was necessary to stop people from cheating on their partners is unjustifed. There is merit in the argument that social conventions reinforcing long term continuing support throughout the child rearing period have value. The evidence provided did not support his assumption that clothing is the only way to do that. Indeed there is ample anthropological evidence to demolish that notion.

    The last few minutes of the programme provided ample evidence that the nudity taboo is a learnt reaction that has very little to do with evolution. After a couple of days of nudity, nudity in rather stressful circumstance, 6 out of the 8 were comfortable enough with their nudity to be seen in the street. Out experience at naturist swimming sessions is that getting over the initial embarrassment takes at most a few minutes. We frequently get comments from new comers that they found it astonishingly quick.

  8. Sister Y says:

    “Fitness” means maximizing one’s genetic contribution to the next generation. “Inclusive fitness” is a term used to highlight the fact that not only an organism and its offspring, but also its non-offspring relatives (such as siblings), will pass the organism’s genes to the next generation.

    People like Margaret Mead popularized the idea that sexual jealousy and shame were cultural, and that some cultures lived without them. It’s a nice idea – I wish it were true, I think sexual jealousy is awful – but she was, unfortunately, incorrect (see, e.g., Derek Freeman’s book Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth). Matrilineal societies exist, but they aren’t free from male sexual jealousy.

    I’m not quite clear (we’re heading for the edge of the cliff again) why changes to hairiness, sweating and the subcutaneous fat layer are ‘moving in the opposite direction’ to each other.

    Subcutaneous fat is an adaptation for warmth. Sweating and hairlessness are adaptations for cooling. Not impossible, just strange.

    Another weird thing here: primate skin is uniformly pale. Humans are the only ones with dark skin – an adaptation to hairlessness, for sun protection. Based on analysis of a gene for melatonin, our skin got dark between 1.2 and 1.7 million years ago. But the body louse genetic analysis suggests that we only got tailored clothes recently – maybe 72,000 years ago. (And analysis of a keratin gene suggests we got our long head hair about 200,000 years ago.)

  9. loopykate says:

    I apologise for my vagueries – didn’t intend to make the point that sexual jealousies don’t exist. There is no anthropological data (to my knowledge) to substantiate that. Ever since Margaret Mead’s unfortunate experience of being hood-winked by ‘the natives’, anthropologists have been on their guard about romanticising other cultures or the (often unavoidable) projection of their own ideals and fantasies upon them. Rather I was taking examples of different social structures and child-care arrangements to illustrate the point that it is not always and has not always been the biological father that invests most in the rearing of his offspring therefore sexual infidelities may well threaten pair-bonds but this is not always to the detriment of the child’s welfare. This does run counter to the case with all other primates and mammals (to my limited knowledge of animal behaviour) but in this instance humans have shown themselves to be more versatile in their allocating of nuturing and protective roles . However, having said that it is still credible that the trait has been carried over into the human species regardless of its redundancy in certain social set-ups (thus undermining my own arguement!)
    Either way – none of this is evidence for Fessler’s premise of nudity providing enhanced temptation to infidelity
    My main beef really is with the so called discipline ‘evolutionary psychology’. As aethel said, attempting to speculate on the motives and responses of extinct species can lead to some very dodgy proposals. I studied anthropology at an established, well respected university and in those days (1990s) it was an area left well alone. Evolutionary anthropologists looked at changing anatomy, material-culture specialists might hypothosize about social organisation and activities (but less so attitudes or ‘beliefs’) from archaeological remains and primate-behaviour specialists would analyse primate behaviour and sometimes ‘compare’ it to the behaviour of humans in groups but I don’t recall their analyses ever being taken to explain unequivocally, the motives and actions of humans.
    There was also an awareness fostered of the various ‘discourses’ of anthropology – and how these were subject to change and challenge over time with prevailing political climates and competing ‘claims’ to a particular ‘human nature’. While this did have the tendancy to lead up its own back passage (‘we can’t know anything for sure since all knowledge is subject to shifting criteria and paradigms) it did encourage a healthy skepticism regarding any complacent ‘truth-claims’.
    Evolutionary psychology sounds like a recent spin-off of the resurgence in popularity of socio-biology with its current high priest Mr Dawkins (with whom I’m quite often in agreement). It’s a great antidote to the rise in fundamentalist religion and creationism but has the propensity to spin rather alot of specious clap-trap and speculation which, coincidentaly makes great telly – especially since it provides abundant material for our endless obsessions with the sexual act and sexual relations (not to mention potential excuses for some of our behaviour or otherwise eminent support for moral or amoral positions of one flavour or another).
    Excuse me Aethel – I’ve been rambling and taking up far too much of your comments page this weekend!
    K.x

  10. Robert says:

    I suppose if I looked like I looked when I was twenty I be walking around nude all the time, sadly if we had a young lady walking around with a nice figure nude, then I suspect she know I was looking for a mate.

    I was young and played a lot of sport mainly Rugby, so I had to work hard at building muscle I was six ft, 14 stone and not a inch of fat, now I’m 5.10 after having part of my spine removed and sadly look like a lump of lard, walking around nude would make many people sick.

    Why do we feel nudity is not done, because many people do not have a body which would look nice, when we wear clothes I guess we can make a lump of port look nice.

  11. Keith says:

    Oh how I miss Horizon! When I was a kid I used to watch every week. I even loved the television theme. I wanted to be a nerdy scientist so I could get onto Horizon. I agree with you that if they’re covering, without any real science, social issues it’s kind of disappointing. But even with that I bet it’s still better than the U.S. equivalent, “Nova”.

    Keith

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