Lifting Veils

September 23, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography, Biology, Estrogen

There is this thesis that I’ve been playing with.  Like the experience physics theorists have described, it seems too beautiful to not be true.  Nevertheless, Stephen J. Gould has described the trap biologists sometimes get themselves into, the dogged pursuit of a beautiful thesis that turns out to be false.

The thesis I am now exploring has been developing since late 1997.  It has grown deeper with time.  Earlier immersion in works by William Irwin Thompson and Riane Eisler prepared me for what followed.  It started out as an exploration of how Darwin’s theory of sexual selection juxtaposed with Chris Knight’s explanation of matrifocal human evolution.  This insight was joined by Gould’s description of heterochronic processes, associated with Norman Geschwind’s studies of cerebral lateralization and Annett’s discoveries regarding handedness distributions.

Darwin, Knight, Gould, Geschwind and Annett each offered pieces that suggested an integrated whole.  Sexualselection.org describes the thesis, introduced in 1998.

I struggled to write a larger, cogent overview of the thesis but a combination of deep disappointment around failed attempts to start conversations with academics (many polite responses, little enthusiasm) and the need to make a living (my former business took a dive) propelled me to put my theorizing on hold.  I started a website design firm in 1999.  From the start, I focused on achieving high rankings for my clients’ websites and my theory site.  I discovered I had a talent for the kind of obsessive, focused puzzle-solving that search engine optimization entailed.  Search engine ranking is now a sizable portion of my living.  My four theory sites have received over a million unique visitors.

Last fall, I was diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm.  I’d been writing every day since the previous January 1, with daily postings slowly turning back toward evolutionary theory after a hiatus of several years.  Over the course of the spring and summer, I kept finding societal applications of heterochronic theory with implications that felt profound.  Biology and society began to merge as I observed identical processes impacting both disciplines in predictable ways.  Changing maturation rates and timing (the foundation of heterochronic theory) had both biological and societal implications.

Discovery of the aneurysm seemed to concentrate my attentions.  The existence of the aneurysm is not life threatening, unless it ruptures.  Still, the chance of a rupture in a given year is 2.5 percent to 10 percent, depending on the surgeon being interviewed.  Life feels more precious.

The original thesis that came together in 1997 and 1998 offered a host of insights and one major anomaly.  The anomaly was that Asian patrifocal social structures produce neotenous features.  I rejected the “random” answer that different ethnicities produce different features based on unpredictable tendencies to focus on particular sexually selected traits.  In the back of my mind for almost ten years was the feeling that an answer to this riddle would lead to useful new directions.

In addition, I was aware that my theory focused almost exclusively on testosterone as a driving force in human evolution, with testosterone controlling rates of maturation.  It seemed to me that estrogen probably had an integral part to play, but it had not become obvious what that part was.  For ten years, that thought about estrogen bounced around in the back of my mind.

Then, last fall, shortly after the discovery of the aneurysm, I began to play with the possibility that estrogen worked in close cooperation with testosterone in a complementary opposite fashion.  This possibility could both explain the paradox of Asian neoteny and provide a balanced explanation of how maturation rates are adjusted by estrogen in the womb and in society.

That felt major.  The piece, “Introduction to the Theory of Waves,” described the dynamic.  What I had called “Shift Theory” in 1998 I now called “The Theory of Waves” to accommodate the integration of estrogen into the equation.

Last spring, a series of additional revelations regarding estrogen emerged.  The whole theory began to lean in the direction of an estrogen dynamic when it occurred to me that there was a relationship between my stepdaughter’s difficulty with entering puberty (her diabetes wouldn’t let her put on fat) and estrogen as a possible force that controlled the timing of maturation.  This implied that heterochronic theory, already deeply integrated into the thesis, might offer further illumination by interpreting testosterone as controlling the rate of maturation while estrogen controlled the timing.

A one-sentence explanation of evolution.

An immediate implication was that autism was impacted by the mother’s testosterone and estrogen level.  In addition, the child’s hormone levels would impact maturation rates once out of the womb, particularly as regards estrogen levels.  Synapse pruning results in a reduced left hemisphere in most normal right-handed people.  This may be managed by estrogen levels, just as fat levels in adolescents determine the timing of the testosterone surges that occur at puberty.  Autistic brains are often characterized by having had no pruning of synapses as young children.

I wrote Simon Baron-Cohen.  On 6/25/09 he replied that I ask a bunch of great questions but that he doesn’t think researchers have the answers yet.  Baron-Cohen said he’d discuss my conjectures with his colleagues.  Dr.  Baron-Cohen had responded positively to an emailed introduction to my work last autumn, providing me permission to quote his positive response.

In the meantime, having been in the middle of the slow accumulation of a number of ideas that have suddenly snapped together into an integrated whole, I continue to wonder how something so beautiful might not be profoundly useful.  And, if not so useful, are there portions of the theory that might be useful?

A major hurdle is that heterochronic theory is not applied to human diseases and disorders.  It is a rather arcane, evolutionary biological backwater.  Getting theorists to pay attention to the rate and timing of maturation as regards evolution, ontogeny, epigenesis and endocrinology is a challenge.

A second problem is that autism is not looked at as an evolutionary condition.  With Darwin’s theory of natural selection still the default frame of reference, it’s very difficult for people to note the potential usefulness of alternative, complementing evolution theories.  Looking at autism as a heterochronic condition is a foreign concept to literally every academic or theorist I have proposed this idea to.

One last thing.  Sensitivity to the preciousness of life seems to encourage a lifting of veils.  If some of these conjectures turn out to be useful, if the central thesis offers physics-like leverage to open doors to additional useful theories in the future, then perhaps specific forms of spirituality might be useful when it comes to science.  If, instead of rejecting mythology as a prerequisite to engaging in science, what if we instead embraced an eastern inclination to live in the present, with no mythology?  Awareness of our own mortality may be integral to understanding that which transcends individual identity.  Feeling our not existing may offer insight into that part of us that transcends individual self.

Sensitivity to mortality may offer leverage when exploring the structure of interconnection.  Experiencing self and Self may allow us to experience evolution over time, and in the now.


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