Highly Speculative Love Affairs

In the collection of C.S. Lewis essays I finished recently(Of Other Worlds), one of the selections (“Unreal Estates”) is the transcript of a discussion between Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss on genre literature, among other topics.  At one point in the conversation, the following exchange appears:

Lewis: By the way, has any science fiction writer succeeded in inventing a third sex? Apart from the third sex we all know.
Amis: Clifford Simak invented a set-up where there were seven sexes.
Lewis: How rare happy marriages must have been then!

Before you read on, pause for a second and try to decide exactly what problem Lewis is anticipating in his comment.

 

I realized, when I was reading the dialogue, I could think of two possible complications that Lewis might be referring to (and the conversation subsequently shifted, so I wasn’t sure which was right).  First, Lewis might have meant it would be much harder to find anyone to marry, since the odds that anyone was attracted to your particular sex was much lower.  Who knows how a system of seven sexes would work.  People might be attracted to any subset of the seven, and you might be unlucky enough to keep falling for people who didn’t find your particular sex attractive.

In this world, liking a particular gender is like having a thing for redheads, and finding out that disappointingly few redheads have a thing for you.  The more specialized your tastes, the more difficult it is to find a compatible match.

 

But, I realized there was another possible difficulty that Lewis might have anticipated.  If marriage is meant to be the sacrament that bridges a tremendous division, and reunites the two images of God, might it be that, in Simak’s world, a true marriage would bind seven people together — one of each gender?  This bears a little more resemblance to the idea of love and marriage as a healing of divisions (as in the song “The Origin of Love” below, adapted from Plato’s Symposium).

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Here, the genders are essential to identity and complimentary.  A marriage of only six people would be unbalanced in some way, so you have to find seven people willing to pledge troth together.

 

I’d be curious to have commenters share which difficulty they anticipated (or if you came up with a third idea) and whether it matches your ordinary ideas about love and marriage.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Dauvit Balfour

    The second idea you proposed was the one that occurred to me initially, before attempting to ponder the question. In reading the dialog, I somehow assumed that 7 sexes would mean 7 people in a marriage. There’s an SF story, I think, that discusses a multiplicity of genders that are necessary for procreation (was that Vonnegut? I can’t remember).

    As for matching up with my own ideas, I suppose it lines up with my formal approach to marriage. From a theological standpoint I understand and assent to the Catholic notion of marriage. But this lining up is unconscious and not immediately interesting to me.

    My favorite secular approach to marriage is from an otherwise forgettable Louis L’Amour novel, wherein the male protagonist tells his love interest that he wants a woman to walk beside him into the wild (or something like that). Now, if we discard all theological or moral ideas about marriage, this definition could suit any particular group of True Companions, regardless of sex or number, so I fully admit that it’s incomplete. Maybe this is where that sense of bridging divisions and complementarity comes into play. Maybe I cannot set aside Catholic thought as easily as I thought.

    So, if we take the marriage as True Companions + Complementarity approach, then 7 sexes needs a marriage of 7, and the whole facing the world/storming the gates of hell image that I let play out in my mind works just as well for 7 as it does for 2, from an SF perspective.

    Although, I would think this arrangement might render intimacy (especially emotional and spiritual) difficult. But I guess that was Lewis’s point.

    Grrrr, scattered thoughts, I offer, but maybe they make a little lick of sense. Also, hi, been reading for a while, finally got around to the commenting thing.

    • grok87

      Dauvit- I think it is Asimov’s “The God’s Themselves” that you are thinking of.

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

      “Second part: …The Gods Themselves…
      The second part takes place in the parallel universe. The aliens consist of the “hard ones” and the amorphous “soft ones”. The soft ones have three sexes with fixed roles for each sex:

      Rationals – Called “lefts”, rationals are the logical and scientific sex. Rationals are identified with masculine pronouns and produce a form of sperm.

      Emotionals – Called “mids”, emotionals are the intuitive sex. Emotionals are identified with the feminine pronouns and provide the energy needed for reproduction.

      Parentals – Called “rights”, parentals bear and raise the offspring. Parentals are identified with masculine pronouns.”

      cheers,
      grok

  • jscalvano

    I anticipated the seven person marriage and the difficulty of finding seven people that could that could handle a marriage together. While I don’t play mmorpgs much, I would imagine it would be somewhat similar to the difficulty of building a properly balanced party. There seem to be a comparable number of classes and from what I’ve seen, strong parties tend to stay together for a long time.

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  • Christian H

    I had assumed that, if there are seven sexes, then all seven must be necessary for reproduction. So, presumably, if marriage was, in this hypothetical culture, an institution used to mark off sexual availability, then all marriages would need to include seven people.

    The difficulty I had then anticipated was jealousy. Because even if all people are attracted to one another in different ways, I still imagine that it would be easy for some person in the marriage to be jealous of the other partners’ relationships with one another if those relationships were perceived to be “special” or closer or uniquely fulfilling.

    • Nick Corrado

      This was what I was thinking too—for me I’m betting that TNG episode about the alien race with the third sex who Riker was attracted to is to blame. That posed difficulties slightly different than jealousy, though (the third wheel was effectively treated like property, useful only for the reproductive process, iirc).

      • Christian H

        I have never seen that episode. I have, however, read a few accounts of people who practiced polygamy. The two most common problems I’ve encountered in my reading about polygamous marriages (both secular and religious) are scheduling and jealousy. That’s where I got jealousy.

      • hypnosifl

        I think you’re misremembering that episode (“The Outcast”)–that alien species was asexual so they really only had one sex, but they had evolved from ancestors that had two, and they found any expression of gender inclination as a sort of dangerous atavism.

        • Nick Corrado

          I checked the wiki and it appears you’re right, I misremembered a lot of the episode

      • Mariana Baca

        Are you thinking of the episode in Enterprise where Trip Tucker was helping someone of the third sex to avoid what was an animal/pet/slavery life treatment by its society?

      • Mariana Baca
        • Nick Corrado

          Okay, now I’m suspicious–this plot feels more like what I remember, but I distinctly remember Riker and the losing-the-gender-identity too. Maybe I’m confusing this episode with the TNG one. Regardless, both are tangentially relevant.

  • Iota

    Like all the commenters before me, I assumed the problem was you need representatives of seven sexes in one marriage. The twist in this difficulty was whether the seven beings involved would, therefore, all also be attracted to one another, or whether it would look more like some sort of harem where all sexes participate in reproduction’s but not all have relations with each other. The second possibility, I assume, would be rather difficult to live with – it might be like being married to your in-laws.

    I admit I made the assumption purely on the basis of Lewis speaking about marriage. For all I know, in Simak’s universe there may be different methods of reproducing distributed among the seven sexes, so no single, recognisable institution similar to marriage would exist. Speculatively, I guess you could say make one sex, among the seven, that reproduced by budding, so it doesn’t need anyone else.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

      That would be a love tragedy of its own, if a member of one of the sexually-reproducting genders fell in love with one of the asexually reproducing; either trying to convince them that they could work out a companionate marriage, or actually trying to do so.
      We’ve created plenty of tragic love affairs in human culture – imagine Romeo and Juliet set where it’s not just that the Montagues and Capulets are feuding over status and power, it’s the case that the two lovers belong to what are traditionally seen as incompatible genders, and Juliet’s marriage to Paris has to be taken into account as a co-spouse whether or not Romeo, Juliet or Paris particularly want to enter into a group marriage with each other.

      • Iota

        > two lovers belong to what are traditionally seen as incompatible genders

        This has the potential to mightily derail the tread (or maybe not, depending on WHY Leah has us thinking about this) but for me it doesn’t make much sense to say that a being is only “traditionally incompatible”. It either is or isn’t incompatible for marriage specifically. Regardless, at this point, of whether it’s Catholic sacramental marriage or not. For me, different configurations of affection (and sometimes attraction) just have different proper names, and the property of “marriage” is that the beings involved are both sexually attracted to each other, on some level, and capable of jointly reproducing. If one of the two components is missing, you’re dealing with something that should have a different proper name.

        So if I were writing an SF novel featuring aliens with a bunch of different genders who aren’t all equally involved in the procreation process with each other, it would make most sense to me to invent different institutions corresponding to the different forms of reproduction as well as different forms of attraction.

        What that would mean is that Alien-Romeo and Alien-Juliet would have a very, very big problem because they would WANT different kinds of things (although there’d obviously be a problem of why they would ever even develop that misplaced desire in the first place). The closest human analogy is probably unrequited love, but it would have to be more radical – most humans, even when they want to be “just friends” with someone, have at leas some idea what the other side might want. If you ended up having radically different reproduction and attraction patters, it would make sense to assume some beings just don’t have the foggiest idea what is it that those other guys want and insist on so much.

        Imagine that you and someone else are signing a contract of relationship – what you signed is non-exclusive friendship, what they signed is a no-divorce, exclusive marriage license…

        Disclaimer: I don’t actually speak Greek – I just think many languages got cheated out of a lot of very cool relationship-vocabulary.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

          “for me it doesn’t make much sense to say that a being is only “traditionally incompatible””

          Let us say that Alien-Romeo and Alien-Juliet are two of the female genders or male genders or a male and a female gender that are not interfertile or simply it’s traditional (let us say something along caste lines) that Ixi-gender do not wed with Plamoon-gender (different relationships may be permissible, but our star-crossed lovers want a verkama not a simenta relationship).
          With seven genders, even if not all are involved in group marriages or reproduction, the limits of what counts as “miscegenation” are vastly extended. It’s not that immensely long ago that a black female/male and a white male/female were considered “traditionally incompatible”, no matter what the reality of sacramental marriage not being defined by amount of pigmentation might have been.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

            The kind of thing I mean: from “The Adventure of the Yellow Face”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1893:

            “I will tell you the meaning of it,” cried the lady, sweeping into the room with a proud, set face. “You have forced
            me, against my own judgment, to tell you, and now we must both make the best of it. My husband died at Atlanta. My child survived.”
            “Your child?”
            She drew a large silver locket from her bosom. “You have never seen this open.”

            …She touched a spring, and the front hinged back. There was a portrait within of a man strikingly handsome and intelligent-looking, but bearing unmistakable signs
            upon his features of his African descent.

            “That is John Hebron, of Atlanta,” said the lady, “and a nobler man never walked the earth. I cut myself off from
            my race in order to wed him, but never once while he lived did I for an instant regret it.”

            If an Earth-human woman, where we only have two genders, can be said to “cut herself off from her race” simply by marrying a person of the opposite gender (acceptable) but wrong pigmentation (to the extent that they are seen as separate ‘races’ rather than belonging to the one human race), what kind of social constraints might apply in a world of seven genders? It may be as unthinkable for three-gender and five-gender to seek to marry as it was for black and white to marry, regardless of whether they are “incompatible for marriage specifically”.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

            The kind of thing I mean: from “The Adventure of the Yellow Face”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1893:

            “I will tell you the meaning of it,” cried the lady, sweeping into the room with a proud, set face. “You have forced
            me, against my own judgment, to tell you, and now we must both make the best of it. My husband died at Atlanta. My child survived.”
            “Your child?”
            She drew a large silver locket from her bosom. “You have never seen this open.”

            …She touched a spring, and the front hinged back. There was a portrait within of a man strikingly handsome and intelligent-looking, but bearing unmistakable signs
            upon his features of his African descent.

            “That is John Hebron, of Atlanta,” said the lady, “and a nobler man never walked the earth. I cut myself off from
            my race in order to wed him, but never once while he lived did I for an instant regret it.”

            If an Earth-human woman, where we only have two genders, can be said to “cut herself off from her race” simply by marrying a person of the opposite gender (acceptable) but wrong pigmentation (to the extent that they are seen as separate ‘races’ rather than belonging to the one human race), what kind of social constraints might apply in a world of seven genders? It may be as unthinkable for three-gender and five-gender to seek to marry as it was for black and white to marry, regardless of whether they are “incompatible for marriage specifically”.

          • Iota

            > It’s not that immensely long ago that a black female/male and a white male/female were considered “traditionally incompatible”, no matter what the reality of sacramental marriage not being defined by amount of pigmentation might have been.

            In some places.

            I don’t remember my country having any laws regarding race and marriage (the history of my country involves mostly white people fighting white people, and it’s terribly hard to maintain any universalizing sense of “a white race” under such conditions – ethnic differences in general become much more pronounced, and you’re much more likely to think that this is a Russian, a Lithuanian, a German, A Czech a Turk, a Greek, than “these are members of the white race”).

            What we had instead was, obviously, a distaste for mésalliance (i.e. marriages across social classes). Marriages across religious divides could be tricky too. And, occasionally, especially during periods of conflict, across nationalities. So obviously a mixed-race marriage could be difficult to pull off, but I suppose not so much because of race as in “skin-colour” but ethnicity in general (religious and cultural differences).

            [Sorry, I can’t resist widening the discussion to include other context than Anglo-American culture, especially if we’re talking about aliens…]

            Of course in the alien universe there may things that make relationships unacceptable. It’s just that I’d be much more likely to say that in this case “what they are doing is unacceptable”, not “they are incompatible”. If it can happen, doesn’t ACTUALLY violate the basic understanding of a relationship as defined in their universe, but “no respectable alien would ever do such a thing!” then I’d call it “unacceptable”. If it violates the definition, the core understanding of that “this relationship is about”, they are “incompatible” for the purposes of that relationship.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    My thought was instantly of the second, since I assumed that with seven genders all seven would be necessary for reproduction.

    The first would be a situation more like the nine genders currently recognized by the US Federal government.

    But the “rarity of happy marriage” CS Lewis was likely referring to given his own personal history and varying ability to deal with two genders, is likely the second- that we can barely make marriage happy with two genders, how the heck do you do it with seven?

  • branemrys

    I don’t remember which I thought when I first read this interview, and I’ve read the Simak story, so I won’t answer the question. But I’ll just put in a word and say that the Simak story, “Mirage” (although apparently the original title was “Seven Came Back”), is very good.

  • Chana Messinger

    I assumed the second, since humanity is cleft into two, there is something perfect about two opposite sexes coming together. Two people in a 7-gendered world don’t have all of humanity in their marriage.

  • BrandonUB

    I find the idea that people are deficient without a counterpart of the opposite gender to be quite appalling. I suppose if that’s what Lewis was referring to, it’s another reason to find him generally loathsome.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mr.alexanderson Alexander S Anderson

      I have no idea where you’re getting this from the text. A marriage system of seven sexes can be difficult even if a being of one of these particular sexes can have a totally fulfilling life as a single person.

      • BrandonUB

        I’m referring to this:

        Here, the genders are essential to identity and complimentary. A
        marriage of only six people would be unbalanced in some way, so you have to find seven people willing to pledge troth together.

        This implies that an individual is incomplete and unbalanced without a partner. I’m not buying it.

        • http://www.facebook.com/mr.alexanderson Alexander S Anderson

          No, it implies that a *marriage* is unbalanced without all the necessary pieces. Unless someone thinks they’ve married themselves, I don’t think it applies to our world.

    • Clare Krishan

      Who said deficient? The concept of complementarity simply says that generation proceeds from gender, that no one proceeds from neutrality. Your argument for self-neutrality is deficient in terms of incomplete and thus logically incoherent, but of course you yourself are a complete person and cohere in your existential phenomenology of selfhood. Euphoria is possible in same-sex communities, obviously, great non-neutral choral music came from both male monasteries and female convents. Seclusion in a gendered-specific way is not the cultural norm: in primitive societies only a narrow segment the elite could afford such luxury (uxor=wife, a life of recreational domestic leisure) the rest had to seek sanctuary for their gender in complementarity.

      http://theweek.com/article/index/243814/the-15000-year-old-ancestral-language-that-birthed-english-and-russian

      • BrandonUB

        Your argument for self-neutrality is deficient in terms of incomplete
        and thus logically incoherent, but of course you yourself are a complete
        person and cohere in your existential phenomenology of selfhood.

        This is complete word salad. Knock it off.

        I’m fully on board with human relationships, including romantic relationships being delightfully fulfilling. It’s the idea of complementarity along rigid gender lines, and the necessity of fitting and filling them to be “balanced” that’s nonsensical.

    • Mariana Baca

      Well, ok not sure how to phrase this so it is a direct reply to your statement.

      A species is made complete in a purely natural sense via reproduction. We need male and female pairs to define the set “human”. Without it, males alone or females alone, that is an incomplete picture of humanity. But this applies to humans not just as a biological species, but as persons. Humankind is complete with men and women, because they both share a complementary part of the image of God, as persons.

      That said, Christianity has a strong tradition of celibacy, monasticism, hermitage, virginity, etc. Where did it get it while retaining the idea of the complementarity of the sexes being the image of God?

      Well, it comes from the fundamental idea that virginity/celibacy is a signpost to the resurrection. These things *don’t* make sense in a purely natural framework. But if we have a strong relationship with God (as such that was repaired by the resurrection), the person is made complete via that relationship and purely natural marriage is not required (or for that matter, desired).

      Cultures that have had strong monastic traditions have had to have a conception of humanity beyond the purely natural — those who were suitable for being parents that were chosen for the single life were in touch with the divine or a higher purpose. Otherwise, they marry.

      • BrandonUB

        Humankind is complete with men and women, because they both share a complementary part of the image of God.

        There is not, and probably can’t be, evidence for this claim.

        What follows is predicated on this claim, so it’s kind of hard to respond when I don’t accept that in the first place.

        • Mariana Baca

          I was trying to explain the Catholic point of view, not convince you of it. ETA: I was trying the explain the POV in a non-appaling way, not necessarily have you buy into it.

          • BrandonUB

            Fair enough, thanks for the explanation. I’ll ponder it a bit and see if I can come up with a cogent reply within that framework.

        • Mariana Baca

          I can make a fair effort at trying to explain this premise, but I’m not sure whether you are theist or atheist.

          If I try to simplify the premise to its simplest components with as little mention of God: what I mean for something to be “in the image of God” is that the thing is a “rational person”. It additionally states that both “male-type humans” and “female-type humans” are equally rational persons, despite their physiological and psychological differences. Those differences are fully part of the scope of “rational persons” in the species “homo sapiens” and you need the qualities of both to fully define the scope of humanity.

  • stanz2reason

    It’s funny, upon first reading of the Lewis exchange it didn’t occur to me that all 7 would be in one singular marriage. I pictured more along the lines of the Indian caste system, where there are different classes of people, but with very pronounced physiological differences. Maybe the soldier/warrior class would be big, strong & dimwitted, the humanities class would be small, weak & intellectual and neither would have an interest in or the capability of being involved in either the reproduction aspects or the socially binding aspects of what we consider marriage. In many ways these traits could mirror a two-gendered species like our own with some people diving into marriage and others avoiding it all together.

    It’s difficult to conceptualize something so radically different without applying a human standard to it. I’d imagine things like a group hierarchy might be problematic in a marital situation involving 7 people, but again, it might only be problematic through my eyes and not theirs. While it’s alien to me, I can at least imagine polygamy group dynamics or groups that might allow, shall we say liberties with other spouses. But 7 actual different sexes is a little out there. So far as I’m aware, there aren’t any known species who incorporate the genetic materials of more than 2 parents (though I’d love to hear about one if anyone knows of a case).

    Lets assume for a moment that all seven are required for reproduction to take place. Perhaps 1 sex would contribute most heavily to bone structure, another to superficial features like hair, eye & skin color, another to intelligence, etc. Maybe it’s kind of like a visual effects unit on a big movie. One guy does the wire frame, then another does rough painting, another the lighting, another the detailing, etc. This would be an interesting way for nature to deal with overpopulation without sacrificing high genetic diversity.

    In terms of how each of the seven would function in this marriage, I’d imagine it somewhat like a wholesome family frat house. Their home would be less of a house and move of a hive. There’s the smart one, the good looking one, the athlete, etc. who all contribute to the running of their collective day to day lives.

  • Ben @ 2CM

    “If marriage is meant to be the sacrament that bridges a
    tremendous division, and reunites the two images of God”

    Never heard of this; I thought we reflected the image & likeness
    if the Trinity through human marriage. The eternal love between the Father and
    the Son eternally generates a third person; the Holy Spirit. In marriage, the
    love between a man and a woman also generates a third person (a child).

    • Bill

      Why aren’t Christian fathers marrying their sons, in that case? Wouldn’t it make more sense to include Mary, as the mother of Jesus, who created him with God? At least then it wouldn’t be such a sausagefest.

      • Maureen O’Brien

        So what you’re saying is that love isn’t love unless it includes sex. I’m sorry you’re so lonely, then.

  • Shawn L

    I initially thought that Lewis implied that because a true happy marriage would between 2 sexes, that 5 of the other sexes would have some intrinsic inferiority to the 2 sex marriage. Thus, any combination of marriages that included at least one of the inferior sexes would be objectively less happy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mr.alexanderson Alexander S Anderson

      I kind of assumed that in a species with seven sexes, none of them would correspond exactly with male or female, as they form a complete set for reproductive purposes. presumed that with 7 sexes, you need all of them together to reproduce, although I suppose there might be “incomplete” combinations of a certain subset that could work. It’s really unfortunate that the topic shifted, it would be cool to see speculation on that front. (Jealousy, I think, would be really complicated if only a certain subset of possible combinations worked. The different combinations could even be cultural, creating horrible cross-culture tensions)

  • muddyoh .

    Neither of those thoughts occurred to me. I thought, since Lewis was most likely against same-sex unions in our world, his inference was that each of the 7 fictional sexes was “ideally” compatible with only one other of the 7. But if in our male/female world people deviate in their choice of gender-orientation, then how much more likely would it be for people to deviate (and therefore, end up unhappy) if there were 7 sexes for potential preference rather than our mere 2?

  • grok87

    I had assumed your first problem- i.e. the redhead one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mr.alexanderson Alexander S Anderson

    I kind of wondered how many, and what sorts of combinations, are sufficient for reproduction for this species? If you need all seven, it has the problem you listed above. But, what if certain groups of four were sufficient? What if one sex was always necessary for reproduction, while another was only necessary in certain combinations? There, I think you’d not only have unhappy marriages where people can’t get along, but also really complex jealousy between people who prefer a certain combination or other or between more or less “necessary” sexes. I’d imagine cultural differences would almost be unbridgible in such a species.

  • Clare Krishan

    In our planetary system the human body is icon, an image of transcendence of time – all perishes save the countenance of the beloved seen in the visage of the offspring, as the sun’s light is seen in moonlight.

    What mysterious semiotics would C.S. Lewis have in mind other than a science fiction escatology approaching the planetary plenitude of Mormonism’s “to each patriarch his own celestial body”? (Recall Lewis never conceded a universalist cosmology of ONE mystical body for Mother church, remaining Anglican tinged with a little Gnosticism to the end)

    So for the sake of speculation (moon: silver: mirror: speculum) perhaps the seven genders would imply an alternate cosmogeny whereby human fecundity’s luteal phase would be obscured by 5 other celestial objects (1 and 7 remaining our outgoing seed-gender and incoming womb-gender) with fertility governed by knowing when these occlusive events were likely to hinder the ultimate purpose of conjugal union from success. Perhaps the penetrating-gamete mind cannot perceive the receptive-gamete pheromones being released until the physionomy of the 5 other planetary-syncopating-genders have first revealed their key life-giving purpose and facilitated the consummating mystery to take place.

    What five aspects of personhood could it be necessary to exhibit (assuming there was some actual biological agency associated with 5 imaginary planets?) to give rise to new life? I can image a rather gross situation where the sower-gender was unsure which orifice his sewing belonged in? The five remaining genders would be non-fecund in themselves, they would be eunuchs for the Kingdom so to speak, but their mind-body cosmic-complimentarity would, by a process of elimination, act as remediation to misguided orificeseekers, so that the ultimate end of eros be revealed and revered? The five other genders would be pastorally necessary, in the sense of ritual celebration of the mysterious deliverance of a new infant member to the community in a certain cyclical season. So …

    …taste being the sense the new infant seems to need satisfying first, one mouth-gender and Oral-planet would regulate start of rainy season and an affinity for wet soil (the crop-planting ‘priesthood’ could only be capable of ‘tasting’ soil’s wetness at that time in the season, they would be ‘frigid’ ie absent their gender’s libidinous drive for soil contact at all other times)

    …hearing being the sense the new infant seems to appeal to most to get his needs met, the ear-gender and Aural-planet would regulate seasonal weather patterns, with an affinity for ‘hearing’ how the air changes with windspeed and humidity (the wind-listeners would only ‘hear’ air quality when the orbitary alignment of the ear- and mouth-planets made them conducive, they would be ‘frigid’ absent a libidinous drive for air contact at all other times)

    …touch being the sense the new infant uses most to discern a satisfactory caregiver, the skin-gender and Tactile planet would regulate daily dress with an affinity for ‘undressing’ when the conditions change (the skin-revealers would only ‘expose’ skin at feeding times whereby the solar-light planet was unoccluded by oral, aural or tactile planets, they would be ‘frigid’ absent a libidinous drive for skin exposing at all other times)

    …sight being the sense the new infant uses to resist engaging with unsatisfactory service of the senses by foodstuffs (pastoral failure of mouth gender, aka oral sins), lullabies (aural sins) or caresses (tactile sins); the eye-gender with Ocular-planet awareness would alert the parenting Sun and Moon genders to phases of cosmic time when their light-perception would ne most conducive to avoiding sins of the mouth, ear and skin gender that lead to premature death of the infant after birth

    … smell being the least-developed sense in the new infant (odor from evacuating excretions offending all 7 genders equally but the infant not at all) the nose-gender in line with the phases of the Nasal-planet can inhale infant-odor and exhale-neutralizing compounds that combat nausea associated with infant hygiene that allows for the Sun gender to pick up the Moon gender pheromones permeating in fresh air. Absent the romantic ambience of Nasal-chaperoned courtship, the Moon gender would be too nauseous to be receptive to any Sun-gender wooing.

    Et voila the eros of seven genders explained (the genetics would be a whole ‘nother post, but if pressed I’m sure it could be arranged for speculation sake)!

    But why would we want to? When our zoosemiotic mystery is so splendidly munificent (ooh, ‘moon’ etymology again) in all its variety, reflecting the glory of our Uncreated Creator? Me? I’d rather bask in, enjoy, come to appreciate then develop proficiency in the art that lies therein rather than invent a proposterously convoluted simulacrum, but thx for the chance to entertain you by sharing the proposition.

  • Clare Krishan

    this piece
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/goodletters/2013/05/tuck-in-your-artifice-its-showing
    nails my sense on the meme

    Why speculating more Sun Moor Google+circles of Mars and Venus human cohorts is unseemly and unedifying (am I being pedantic in sharing how little enamored I am in discounting Jesus’ gender so speculatively)

  • Cam

    Ever since I read “On Obstinancy in Belief’ from ‘The World’s Last Night’, I’ve never held Lewis’ reasoning abilities in particularly high regard or understood why he is so widely cited, his logic was just… bad. Perhaps that essay wasn’t representative though.

    I assumed a third type of problem – in a relationship, every person is a complex mixture of needs and desires and problems and feelings and so on. If the complexity of a relationship increases with the number of people, then a seven-party relationship, if it was the most common form in a seven-sex world, would be excessively complex.

    I think if you apply two-sex logic to a seven-sex world problems will arise, but we should actually expect a seven-sex world to have its own seven-sex logic and organisation.

    But backing things up a bit: gender and sex are different, and there are not two sexes in our world. It doesn’t matter whether one considers the Catholic Church a ‘truth-teller’ in general, on this they are wrong, and that shouldn’t be too big a deal- if they can get cosmology or physics wrong and still be a truth teller, then surely they can get gender and sex wrong and still be a truth teller. Getting the distinction between sex and gender right doesn’t hurt or change this discussion at all, and in fact makes it more interesting!

    • KG

      Cam, I want to thank you for that Lewis reference – it goes to the heart of many of my recent objections to arguments on this blog. I would love a post attempting to reconcile “Obstinancy in Belief” with Less Wrong. And to head off the objection that Lewis’ arguments should not be taken as a proxy for all Catholic teaching or that I’m using Lewis as a straw man, I simply ask for *better* arguments that might support his conclusions.

    • Clare Krishan

      re: “Gender and sex are different” indeed but in what sense apropos the discussion? In other languages the nouns are the same, Geschlecht for example in German,
      http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=gender
      and the verbs closely related, in French gendrer is fruitful copulation while anatomical faculty of copulating is sexe.
      http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gender#Translations
      Thwarted higher-order faculties is where the dysphoria in cosmic anthropology introduced logical incoherence. Rhetorically, in a simple organism (the kind that don’t write science fiction novels nor read them) logic is limited to a singularity of ‘formequalsfunction’. To permit this discussion thread (and allow for rhetoric) we need to allow for dysphoria, that sense appetite can be mislead and defiled. Here the Greek for the noun gender is interesting: φύλο (fílo, tribe) linguistically resembling one of CS Lewis’s 4 loves (and not gendered eros but the organism’s philia for fellow organisms). In English we have lost the mystical φ character (an aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive and root of other mystical words such as phos, light known in Cyrillic as фрьтъ (fr̥tŭ or frĭtŭ) cf Friede, /ˈɸri.θuz/ sanctuary, peace or Church Slavonic фертъ (fert) and Russian Ф (ферзь, ferz’ chess queen)

      Gender isn’t mere form as in plant sex, gender is a higher-order agency exhibited in elective behaviour as in animal sex. Gender dysphoria can be seen in the absence of peace or sanctuary during runting season among pack animals: brute power doesn’t always win the prize, sly suitors can and do pass on their genetic material and live to see another day. But the survival of the passed on genetic material is less assured, selfspecies cannabalism happens. Ergo, truely-successful gender doesn’t just ‘do’ sex, but practices the perfection of ‘sex’: such that his or her offspring flourish. (see excellent BBC Natural History documentary Great Bear Stakeout for amusing “anthropomorphism-undone”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0176qj5)

      So… self-awareness (I get me “some”) isn’t “it.” **

      … nor is other-awareness of self (I get me mine

      from “some” of your “it” **, the rest is your responsibility).

      “it” ** is … selfreflexive-otherawareness (I get responsibility for your “it”, you get responsibility for my “it”, we create sanctuary for eachother’s “some” (if we desire to be aware of another new nascent “it” we marry each other and gift eachother “some”) all are responsible for mutual formation of selfreflexive “it”

      ___
      ** where “some” = sexual expression of biological function
      and “it” = gender identity and self-reflexive is the higher-order faculty of conscience, aka responsibility for self-agency’s impact on others’ self-agency including new selfs)

      • Clare Krishan

        re: mindful sanctuary a higher-order that appetite for begetting:

        “For lust longs for the innocent mindlessness of the beast; and, to grasp that mindlessness, will pervert language itself, calling sex “safe” or “protected,” and cohabitation “honest,” and relationships “mutual,” which are nothing but forays into a jungle, where the strongest and most cunning survive. There is no way to make such a place habitable. The only choice is to leave it, and return to a land of love, humility, gratitude for the excellence of the other sex, and marriage.” Anthony Esolen “Neither in the Jungle nor out of it” http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9449/

    • Maureen O’Brien

      Um… why are you taking this as an example of reason, as opposed to wit?

      Science fiction fans and writers like making funny comments. It was a cute quip. If you want to probe the assumptions behind it, fine, but don’t analyze it like it’s Euclid writing a book. You can only analyze like it’s Euclid in a taverna drinking retsina and playing dice.

      • Cam

        I wasn’t. As I mentioned, Lewis is widely cited both on UY and elsewhere. I’m not criticising the logic of his quip, I’m criticising the esteem in which he is held as a thinker generally.

        Throwaway comments can actually be deconstructed though, and should be. Why not? All it takes for a string of words to have meaning and effect is that they were said at all. For example, racist jokes aren’t meaningless or harmless, no matter how brief or funny they are. I’m curious as to why you’re taking it upon yourself to police who can analyse what?

        As for ‘backing things up a bit’, that is in reply to Leah’s post, and the way she is talking about sex, sexuality and gender.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

    It needn’t necessarily be that all seven sexes are necessary for reproduction; you could have sterile (like female worker bees) or neuter genders. But if, in our world where there are only one male and one female (traditionally) sex, and we misunderstand each other and have such variety and divergence of experience and are tempted to think that the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill, so maybe I should have married George instead of Tom – then how much more difficult it would be for individuals of gender 1, gender 3 and gender 7 (say) in a marriage to make it work, if 1 thinks he should have asked a different 3 after all, 3 thinks 7 may not be her soul mate, and 7 wonders where the spark has gone out of the romance with zer spouses.

    • Roki

      There’s also serial gendering, such as found among clownfish.

  • wlinden

    I assume that he was referring to the difficulty of finding seven people all compatible with each other.
    In LeGuin’s “A Fisherman of the Inland Sea”, a planetary culture requires quadrigamous marriage (two of each sex), with the result that “matchmaking is an industry.”

  • keddaw

    Ah Lewis, your inability to escape your Christian thinking once again renders your opinion of little value…

    A culture of six sexes may lead to many more happy marriages because there is no need for people to married only once, to one person (group of) and forever. Reproduction could be more like a factory production line:

    Six sexes, as good a number as any, A stores eggs and B stores sperm,* they must meet and breed and have a short but happy marriage. A stores the fertilized eggs and must go and meet a suitable host for those eggs, C, while B seeks a new A. The hormone change from having fertilized eggs makes C more attractive than the sperm carriers to A. C and A have a marriage where A provides for C to ensure the healthy growth of the young ‘uns. As they grow C seeks out many Ds in order pass on the much larger young into perhaps a marsupial pouch where they are exposed to the outside world while protected, nurtured and kept safe. C may provide assistance to the Ds at this point like a lion with a pride. Once the young are large enough to leave the pouch C may return to a previous role while a few Ds may join with a few Es to provide a community for safety where the young can learn from the Es while the Ds forage and keep lookout. Once the young are old enough to be what we may call adolescent, Fs take a single young one to teach in a much more personal way and provide support and security while they fully mature.

    The young would be A-F in the most ecologically stable ratio either through evolution or by intelligence of the six sexes. Gender could be based on genes, temperature, learning etc. etc.

    * And this is just for the usual DNA model, we could speculate about more complicated structures and include prions, symbiosis, photosynthesis etc. etc.

    • Anonymous

      Yay for describing a biological mechanism for seven sexes! Now, what do you have to say about marriage in this society? Or is your inability to escape your anti-Christian thinking rendering your opinion of little value (because it’s merely not addressing the topic).

      • keddaw

        So a different understanding of marriage than one man one women, which is present in hundreds of different societies of non-Christians, is somehow anti-Christian? Your Christian privilege strikes again.

        As to your question, there is no reason why marriage could not equate to a period of time where the relationships were relevant to the ability of couples/trios/whatever to best satisfy the particular needs of a specific growth phase of the young.

        And that’s in a situation where I’m artificially binding marriage to rearing young. This is not necessarily the case and, as has been suggested above, perhaps there are one or two that can carry young which the others could mate with to perhaps produce different sexes of young. Thus polyandry might be a more stable relationship if the young are a great burden.

        It is always surprising to me that people can’t conceive that an evolutionary path leading to multiple genders in a stable species (you have to be around for a while to come up with marriage) would not have been able to get round ideas of insurmountable jealousy within groups (think alphas and hierarchies or specialization of roles). Also interesting that sex figures so highly in Christian thinking on this topic.

        • Anonymous

          It’s not that sex figures so highly in Christian thinking… it’s highlighting how slippery the idea of marriage is. I have never seen a serious proposal that marriages could/should have sunset provisions. That would be a pretty different thing (a thing that clearly considers sex much more highly than the Christian view).

          It all really comes back to, “What do you mean marriage, anyway?” Can we substitute ‘temporary pair/group bonding’? Can we substitute ‘temporary sexual relations’? Can we substitute ‘temporary arrangements to provide for progeny’? I think we can each come up with pretty good examples in both our universe and your made-up universe that would satisfy these various things… but that we certainly wouldn’t call marriage (close friends, college encounters, and babysitters come to mind… but I’m sure you can come up with much more devastating examples).

          Alternate universes (or making examples more concrete by using existing animal behavior and extrapolating up a bit) make this exercise easier. You can play with the factors and then ask, “Would I call this marriage?” I wonder if you’re sex-centric? If two beings spend all their time together, yet never have sex or procreate, can you consider that a marriage? What if they have sex and procreate outside of that relationship? Is there such a thing as friendship that is different? How is it different?

          • keddaw

            Marriage is socially defined, so if you’re trying to use the general cultural definition we have in 21st century western countries to deny that some other culturally and biologically relevant relationships on some made up world with made up genders then you are, at best, loading the dice.

            Likewise, when I ask people defending SSM what they mean by marriage they tend to mess it up massively, invoking family, love and some other things that should logically lead them to supporting polygamy and incestuous marriages, and yet they instinctively shrink back from that idea.

            Personally I have no interest in defining it or caring about it. I just wish the state would stop punishing people who don’t want to get involved in their current concept of it, by denying rights, increasing taxes or the various other forms of state discrimination against non-married lovers,friends or relatives.

          • Anonymous

            …so you have nothing to say about marriage. You only have something to say about reproduction. How, again, is anything you’ve said relevant to what Lewis was talking about?

  • Andrew G.

    In some families of fungi, there are many (up to thousands) of distinct “mating types”, such that reproduction can take place between any two individuals whose mating types are compatible (usually this requires that they be different, and most combinations of two different types are viable; in some species a type may be compatible with itself, allowing an individual to reproduce with itself – note that this is “selfing”, not cloning, since recombination and meiosis still takes place).

    An example life cycle might be: the (haploid) spore develops into a hyphae network of haploid, monokaryotic cells; two networks meet and fuse, forming a dikaryon (two separate haploid nuclei per cell); this stage is long-lasting (months, years, decades, longer). The dikaryon reproduces by forming spores (usually in a fruiting body); in the spore-forming cells, the two haploid nuclei finally fuse to form a diploid cell, which then quickly undergoes meiosis to form (usually four) spores which are once again haploid and monokaryotic.

    So the biological models of >2 sexes that exist are mostly of the form “any two individuals of different sex can probably reproduce” or “any one or two individuals of same of different sex can probably reproduce”, rather than schemes that require more than two individuals at a time. One would suspect that systems involving more than two individuals would not be favoured in evolutionary terms – there doesn’t seem to be a clear advantage and the additional complexity would appear to be costly.

    • grok87

      very interesting. Agree about evolution probably not liking 3-somes to reproduce- too complicated!

  • KG

    Priors come from scientific evidence that has turned up in the past! In Obstinance, Lewis seems to be saying that it’s okay for Christians to discount that evidence, though, since their premise is to ignore scientific evidence. More specifically, their premise is that Jesus is God as a Person, so they should trust him regardless of what scientific evidence seems to turn up that renders this premise unlikely.

    Is this a self-consistent position? I’m willing to grant that it is. Is it consistent with the way that most people operate in the world today, especially if they are engaged in scientific inquiry or rational discourse? I think not.

    By the way, you can feel free to strip off the LW language and just consider my points in terms of evaluation of evidence (I haven’t read enough of LW to be 100% sure that I represent it entirely accurately). I brought up LW simply because Leah is well versed in it and seems to espouse its worldview.

    • Anonymous

      Priors come from scientific evidence that has turned up in the past!

      I have no problem with this in a strict sense, but I feel like you’re wanting to drag a bit too much metaphysical baggage along the way. Anyway, as Lewis asserted the existence of scientists (who presumably don’t simply ignore past scientific evidence) who are also Christians, your criticism rings hollow lest you can demonstrate the falsity of his assertion. We’re at this point where we have different priors, past science and all. What now? Why do you think his conclusions concerning different reactions due to different priors is false?

      (There is, of course, a fun side question that arises from asserting that priors come merely from past scientific evidence. Would you claim that Bayesianism simply didn’t apply or work until Karl Popper descended from the sky and delivered unto us the doctrine of falsifiability? For of course, until that moment, we had no such thing as genuine past scientific evidence to draw from… and therefore have no way of calibrating priors.)

      Lewis seems to be saying that it’s okay for Christians to discount that evidence, though, since their premise is to ignore scientific evidence.

      Wth is this? I can’t even parse this sentence, much less map it to anything that Lewis actually said. I could use some direct quotes and better interpretation.

      their premise is that Jesus is God as a Person, so they should trust him regardless of what scientific evidence seems to turn up that renders this premise unlikely.

      False. Did you skip the relevant section concerning the scientist who might suspect his wife of cheating? Clearly, he’s not going to withhold belief until an appropriate scientific experiment has been performed, but he’s also not going to ignore the collection of evidence. You seem to be blatantly misreading Lewis. Perhaps it’s just your bias bleeding through.

      • KG

        “I feel like you’re wanting to drag a bit too much metaphysical baggage along the way.”

        Please help me understand what that means.

        “As Lewis asserted the existence of scientists (who presumably don’t simply ignore past scientific evidence) who are also Christians, your criticism rings hollow lest you can demonstrate the falsity of his assertion.”

        There certainly are Christians who are scientists, and who do great work as scientists. I do not dispute that. The point I am arguing is whether they apply the same scientific reasoning to the question of the Resurrection as they do to their scholarly scientific work. It is difficult for me to see that they do, and I get the impression that Lewis would agree. If you can point out why this is false, I would find that helpful.

        “Would you claim that Bayesianism simply didn’t apply or work until Karl Popper descended from the sky and delivered unto us the doctrine of falsifiability?”

        I think that the work of Popper, Bayes, et al helped sharpen and clarify the scientific techniques that had already existed and been put to use. A codification of pre-existing practice, a common language with which to describe it. I’m not formally a scholar of scientific history, though, so if someone knows more about the history of scientific thought that would be helpful.

        “For of course, until that moment, we had no such thing as genuine past scientific evidence to draw from… and therefore have no way of calibrating priors.”

        There had been scientific evidence for as long as people had conducted experiments. What changed was the interpretation of the data and the level of confidence scientists had in predicting future outcomes or explaining past events.

        “Wth is this? I can’t even parse this sentence, much less map it to anything that Lewis actually said. I could use some direct quotes and better interpretation.”

        Lewis seems to be saying that Christians hold on to beliefs despite an accumulation of scientific evidence that runs contrary to that belief. They do this because their premise, God as a Person, requires them to. An example quote would be
        “…Christians seem to praise an adherence to the original belief which holds out against any evidence whatever. I must now try to show why such praise is in fact a logical conclusion from the original belief itself…”

        Now, granted, Lewis does say that there are some types of evidence that support the original premise, just not scientific types of evidence. My entire point here is to evaluate which type of evidence is most trustworthy. The types of evidence that Lewis permits are as follows: “As when I go to see a man, moved by what I felt to be a whim, and find he has been praying that I should come to him that day. Some of it is more like the evidence on which the mountaineer or the dog might trust his rescuer – the rescuer’s voice, look, and smell. For it seems to us (though you, on your premisses, must believe us deluded) that we have something like a knowledge-by-acquaintance of the Person we believe in, however imperfect and intermittent it may be. We trust not because “a God” exists, but because this God exists.
        Or if we ourselves dare not claim to “know” Him, Christendom does, and we trust at least some of its representatives in the same way: because of the sort of people they are.”

        This first type of evidence, visiting the man, sounds like an ordinary coincidence. The second type of evidence, the knowledge of God as a Person, is mysterious to me – does it boil down to literary analysis of the Bible, or surges of emotion? The final type of evidence he suggests is argument from authority. If we are at an impasse because you value those types of evidence more than the scientific evidence that reflects on the plausibility of the Resurrection, then so be it. We have found our bedrock in this discussion. As per usual, though, I direct my questions at Leah, keeping in the spirit of this blog – fights picked in good faith.

        “Did you skip the relevant section concerning the scientist who might suspect his wife of cheating? Clearly, he’s not going to withhold belief until an appropriate scientific experiment has been performed, but he’s also not going to ignore the collection of evidence. You seem to be blatantly misreading Lewis”

        I didn’t skip it, but I don’t see how it applies. If there was no evidence in the first place that his wife was cheating on him, then he should dismiss the suspicion – this seems to me to be the detail that Lewis ignores. If there was evidence that raised the suspicion, he should act on it, and Lewis does admit this. I don’t want to blatantly misread Lewis – how have I misread him here?

        • Anonymous

          “I feel like you’re wanting to drag a bit too much metaphysical baggage along the way.”

          Please help me understand what that means.

          Metaphysics is a thing (pun intended). We can’t throw it away (or more strictly, assume one answer is the correct answer) in computation of our priors because science seems useful any more than we can claim things like “of course the axiom of choice is true because it allows us to prove useful things”.

          The point I am arguing is whether they apply the same scientific reasoning to the question of the Resurrection as they do to their scholarly scientific work.

          Do you apply the repeatability and falsifiability conditions of scientific reasoning to the question of other historical events? Without even inching toward non-secular issues, we have to throw away things that you would demand of the Christian… before we even get to the matters that Lewis wants to address here.

          There had been scientific evidence for as long as people had conducted experiments. What changed was the interpretation of the data and the level of confidence scientists had in predicting future outcomes or explaining past events.

          …and so long as everyone else falls in line with your interpretation, complete with the metaphysical assumptions you made to get your priors, then they’re allowed to be Bayesians? I still don’t see the apparent contradiction you originally seemed to think existed. I just see a problem with getting priors. (Sidenote: the Bayesian needs priors before he can interpret past scientific data. Ultimately, we either make an assumption about priors, or they come from the aether.)

          For the rest of it, I see that you’re still skipping the relevant sections of the article. You’re so focused on the pieces that you think can be treated as soldiers in the argument about evidence for/against the existence of god. As I originally claimed, those are mere asides to the main point: once you have different priors, different behavior is expected. Lewis explicitly states that such a discussion is not the focus of this article, as “that would be to write a full-dress apologia”. You’re still arguing about how you think other people should have gotten to some other set of priors. That does not invalidate or even speak to the main point of the article.

          tl;dr If you’re saying Lewis is just wrong because he doesn’t do a great job of presenting and arguing for evidence for the existence of god, you’ve simply missed the point and skipped things he wrote.

          • KG

            “Metaphysics is a thing (pun intended). We can’t throw it away (or more strictly, assume one answer is the correct answer) in computation of our priors because science seems useful any more than we can claim things like ‘of course the axiom of choice is true because it allows us to prove useful things’”.

            At this point it would be helpful for me to understand what exactly are the alternative metaphysical frameworks to which you refer and how they are used to compute your priors. It’s hard to continue to argue this in the abstract.

            “Do you apply the repeatability and falsifiability conditions of scientific reasoning to the question of other historical events?”

            I think so. I tend to doubt the validity of reported events that seem to violate the regularities of the physical world wherever they arise. Plenty of religious claims fall into this category, not just Christian ones. Most other historical events of a non-religious nature don’t seem to invoke miracles.

            ” Without even inching toward non-secular issues, we have to throw away things that you would demand of the Christian… before we even get to the matters that Lewis wants to address here.”

            My trouble here is that the claim at hand, the Resurrection, overlaps both that of religion and of science, so that one’s worldview on one seems to necessarily influence the other. I don’t think even think we disagree on this. My question is to understand how exactly you come to trust one over the other. The advantage of the scientific worldview on questions of the material world has the advantage of applying to experiments performed today. The advantage of the religious worldview on questions of the material world is less clear. The best arguments I’ve seen are attempts to make the leap from the applicability of religious moral claims to those of the applicability of physics claims. Are there others?

            “…and so long as everyone else falls in line with your interpretation, complete with the metaphysical assumptions you made to get your priors, then they’re allowed to be Bayesians? I still don’t see the apparent contradiction you originally seemed to think existed. I just see a problem with getting priors. (Sidenote: the Bayesian needs priors before he can interpret past scientific data. Ultimately, we either make an assumption about priors, or they come from the aether.)”

            I think this is a useful direction to go with the argument. Yes, initially priors are tricky. But then they get updated! Perhaps my objection is best raised in terms of the manner in which one updates priors, specifically in relation to Lewis’ quote: “Christians seem to praise an adherence to the original belief which holds out against any evidence whatever. I must now try to show why such praise is in fact a logical conclusion from the original belief itself”

            I do see how my objection might seem like I am asking for a full-fledged apologia, and I do understand that Lewis did not attempt one in that essay. But I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that Lewis’ essay can be translated into a procedure of updating priors, not just choosing the initial ones.

            ” once you have different priors, different behavior is expected.”

            I’m not so sure about that. You seem to be thinking of priors as philosophical premises. I am thinking of priors as statistical techniques used to evaluate claims about the physical world. In modern day scientific activity, I think the idea is that even with different initial priors, repeated experimentation will allow people to converge on the same answer even if they started with different initial priors.

            “If you’re saying Lewis is just wrong because he doesn’t do a great job of presenting and arguing for evidence for the existence of god, you’ve simply missed the point and skipped things he wrote.”

            I hope that by now I have convinced you that is not what I am saying. I am interested in how our experience of the physical world today reflects upon our procedure to update the prior probability that the Resurrection occurred as it has been described. I admit that we might still come to different conclusions, but the reason has less to do with the premises we began with than our procedure of evaluating evidence as it comes in. I thought that’s what Lewis was writing about – reaction to evidence.

            Also, what are the relevant passages that I am skipping over? I would be happy to discuss them. I don’t mean to ignore inconvenient parts of the text for my argument.

          • KG

            By the way, I really don’t mean to claim that I’m an expert in exactly what Bayesian reasoning is. Perhaps I’m mischaracterizing it. If someone with more training on the matter would like to jump in, that would be helpful. But I think my point about reacting to new evidence as it comes in still stands.

          • Anonymous

            …Most other historical events of a non-religious nature don’t seem to invoke miracles.

            So your test is still not falsifiability or repeatability. Part of your test is whether it’s consistent with the metaphysics you’ve become convinced of. Different priors, different responses. This whole early discussion is starting to get beside Lewis’s point, though. I’ll let you have the last word on most of that, as responding would require moving toward “a full-press apologia”.

            Yes, initially priors are tricky. But then they get updated!

            …and what they get updated to depends highly on your tricky initial prior… and your estimate of the conditional. There is a lot of room for different responses in Bayesianism.

            Perhaps my objection is best raised in terms of the manner in which one updates priors, specifically in relation to Lewis’ quote: “Christians seem to praise an adherence to the original belief which holds out against any evidence whatever. I must now try to show why such praise is in fact a logical conclusion from the original belief itself”

            The LWese for this is, “They have a very high proir for something else. Therefore, the new evidence is slow-going to change that.” Think of the recent ‘faster-than-light’ experiment. Everyone said, “NOPE! My priors are far too high to believe that’s true.” Think of the resistance to quantum mechanics. Initial priors were strongly resistive. Now, while those examples establish everything we need to establish, they are also fit into the regular framework of science. We were able to continue to gather evidence and repeatedly test them. Lewis clearly marks a difference between scientific hypotheses and other types of belief. We have the mechanism, we have the distinguishing characteristic. What’s the problem?

            I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that Lewis’ essay can be translated into a procedure of updating priors, not just choosing the initial ones.

            He’s talking a bit about updating priors… but that’s still a very different problem. We have standards of evidence (which are field dependent, as much as people might like to shout “YEA SCIENCE, BITCH!”), interpretations, etc. A full-blown discussion of this is not the point of the article.

            You seem to be thinking of priors as philosophical premises. I am thinking of priors as statistical techniques used to evaluate claims about the physical world.

            Priors aren’t statistical techniques. Updating is the statistical technique. Priors are our prior beliefs… no matter how we got them. Sorry to say, but it’s incredibly unlikely that you can tease philosophical premises out of your priors. Just look at your priors on miracles for example. There’s absolutely no way you can get there without philosophical premises.

            I think the idea is that even with different initial priors, repeated experimentation will allow people to converge on the same answer even if they started with different initial priors.

            I see no problem with this. It plays off many philosophers’ dreams of ideal education and improvement processes that bring us toward objective, complete knowledge. Ignore that we should actually argue for these things… let’s just assume them to be true. How exactly does this contradict anything Lewis has said? Consider his example of a mountain climber. He has some prior based on trust. This causes him to ignore (or at least weigh less) the dangerous evidence in front of him. After he’s completed the task, he’s still learned. He’s still taken a step toward becoming the optimal mountain climber (reminder: ignoring questions of whether optimal mountain climbers exist). Nothing here contradicts the process.

          • KG

            “So your test is still not falsifiability or repeatability. Part of your test is whether it’s consistent with the metaphysics you’ve become convinced of. ”

            Even though we risk going off topic here, I have to ask: What is the metaphysics you claim I have, what is your alternative, and why do you trust your alternative? I don’t have much experience thinking about metaphysics, because I still don’t really know what it is. Physics, on the other hand, makes much more sense to me, seems plenty real, and has worked every time I have seen it put to the test. It is also something to which we both can relate, since we both live in the physical world.

            Also, I will concede one point to you regarding historical evidence. For many historical claims, repeatability and falsifiability can’t be applied. Instead, you can look for corroborating sources and see if independent historical inquiries arrive at the same claim. The exception, though, is when a claim seems to be highly unlikely on physical grounds. In that case, I think falsifiability in modern day experiments becomes an important tool. The debate over the origin of the shroud of Turin is a great example.

            “Lewis clearly marks a difference between scientific hypotheses and other types of belief. We have the mechanism, we have the distinguishing characteristic. What’s the problem?”

            The problem is that you seem to deny the applicability of science to judge claims underpinning religion, like the Resurrection. I know I’m basically asking for an apologia, and after thinking about it my problem with Lewis’ article is that he is basically trying to argue that no apologia is necessary for religion to seem reasonable. I take issue with that assertion.

            “Priors aren’t statistical techniques. Updating is the statistical technique.”

            Yes, my language at that point was sloppy, but I agree with your correction.

            “Sorry to say, but it’s incredibly unlikely that you can tease philosophical premises out of your priors. ”

            But I’m not trying to tease out philosophical premises. I am trying to evaluate the plausibility of the Resurrection.

            If you take a claim about the physical world, such as the Resurrection, as an unshakable premise, then there can be no discourse. If you can weigh the plausibility of that claim with empirical evidence, then we can make progress. Or, if you use some other sort of evidence, of a non-empirical sort, can you demonstrate why it is trustworthy?

            “Consider his example of a mountain climber. He has some prior based on trust. This causes him to ignore (or at least weigh less) the dangerous evidence in front of him. After he’s completed the task, he’s still learned. He’s still taken a step toward becoming the optimal mountain climber (reminder: ignoring questions of whether optimal mountain climbers exist). Nothing here contradicts the process.”

            Right, but that’s because I don’t think the analogy really captures the essence of the debate. Ultimately, the mountain climber will see measurable results in his ability to climb mountains. When it comes to evaluating claims of the Resurrection, where are the measurable results?

          • Anonymous

            I think we’re really done here. You’ve admitted enough (you don’t really always apply the criteria of science… but some things offend your metaphysical assumption of physicalism), and Lewis isn’t arguing that a full apologia isn’t necessary. He’s simply saying that he’s not doing so in this particular article. He (and other people) wrote other things, no?

            Everything else is just window dressing. You’re still focused on questions like the resurrection, which is specifically not the type of thing Lewis was addressing here. The only thing left that’s really relevant to respond to is:

            I don’t think the analogy really captures the essence of the debate. Ultimately, the mountain climber will see measurable results in his ability to climb mountains.

            Ultimately? What’s your timescale? Are you now accepting that there may be reasons to ignore strictly scientific evidence on short timescales due to a belief that you will ultimately see measurable results over longer timescales? Sounds pretty irrational to me.

          • KG

            You should stop if you’d like, but I’m enjoying this and would be happy to continue.

            “You don’t really always apply the criteria of science… ”

            All I meant to admit is that I can’t set up a controlled experiment to replicate every historical scenario. But I still make use of my understanding of physics to evaluate the plausibility of historical claims. I’m fortunate that tension of this sort doesn’t come up often, though. It only concerns claims of the supernatural.

            “and Lewis isn’t arguing that a full apologia isn’t necessary. He’s simply saying that he’s not doing so in this particular article.”

            He’s clearly saying more than that. If he were just saying something along the lines of “different assumptions lead to different behaviors”, that would be pretty boring indeed. How about we turn this around for a moment – how would *you* summarize his thesis? But again here’s my take: he’s trying to argue away the relevance of certain types of evidence. He’s saying that when doubts based on physical evidence threaten the validity of one’s belief, one is logically justified to discard those doubts and instead rely on an emotional connection to those beliefs.

            “Ultimately? What’s your timescale? Are you now accepting that there may be reasons to ignore strictly scientific evidence on short timescales due to a belief that you will ultimately see measurable results over longer timescales? Sounds pretty irrational to me.”

            I was not arguing in favor of ignoring scientific evidence. I was saying instead that the types of conflicting evidence the mountain climber faces don’t seem analogous to the conflicting types of evidence a religious believer faces. In the case of the mountain climber, no one is claiming to work miracles. The climber is just trying to work up the confidence to complete a difficult task, in a manner that seems counter-intuitive at first.

          • Anonymous

            Most of the time, once you actually understand what a person has done, it seems rather boring indeed. It’s part of the reason why we have what I call the obfuscation principle of science. I’ve literally had advisers say things like, “You have to lose your audience at some point, so that they know that you know something they don’t know.” (The implication being that clarity is expendable in pursuit of this cause.) And they’re right that we subconsciously work like that. I see it in papers I review, too. Most of the time, once I really get what they’ve done, it seems boring. Only occasionally does one see something that truly changes perspectives in a profound way (seminal papers are rare, indeed, and it would be ridiculous to expect any author to churn out nothing but them).

            Of course, something like this may subtly change your perspective. Now, you’re thinking, “This is boring,” but if you accept that it’s boringly sensible, then suddenly the irrational Christians are much less irrational. They may still be wrong, but clearly advancing down the path of calling them irrational is not going to be successful.

            I obviously disagree with your characterization of his thesis… but it’s just an uncharitable characterization intended to preserve your emotional attachment to the idea of the irrational Christian. Would you say that since the faster-than-light experiment threatened the validity of your belief, you’re logically justified in having discarded it and instead rely on an emotional connection to your belief that faster-than-light motion is impossible? I think you’d be more charitable here.

            You’re merely assuming that the only way a person could have different priors concerning religion is due to an “emotional connection”, which vaguely sounds close enough to “irrational” to fit your current bias. If you at all take seriously the premise (that Lewis clearly stated) that Christians might have reasons besides emotions or irrationality causing their priors to be what they currently are, then you must take seriously his conclusion… that they can rationally update their beliefs in response to new evidence in a way that occasionally looks rather different than you. That’s pretty much it. Rather boring, indeed… but a far cry from the original complaint of being just wrong.

            The climber is just trying to work up the confidence to complete a difficult task, in a manner that seems counter-intuitive at first.

            Oh boy could I see this being considered an incredible distillation of the religious experience. You might really get it.

          • KG

            I think we can agree that obfuscation is a bad thing. I don’t wish to obfuscate Lewis’ point, and I’m looking for help determining if he has obfuscated his. So this essay really does just boil down to “different beliefs lead to different behaviors?”

            “If you at all take seriously the premise (that Lewis clearly stated) that Christians might have reasons besides emotions or irrationality causing their priors to be what they currently are, then you must take seriously his conclusion.”

            I did read Mere Christianity, but that was about four years ago. My recollection was that it asked to consider the character of Jesus, and to consider our view of his motivations. I have a hard time seeing why this is good evidence for belief, because it can be applied to any other self-proclaimed human messenger or embodiment of God. And then, even if you don’t think that other messenger/embodiment is divine, someone will (perhaps millions or billions of people in a belief that has spanned thousands of years), and you can’t ever present evidence to them to change their mind. Nor, I think, can a case be made that you’ve arrived at your conclusion through superior reasoning to them. And this seems to be quite a relativist view of reality.

            So yes, I can take Lewis’ conclusion seriously if I grant that convincing evidence for Christianity exists, but why should I ever grant that without being convinced first?

            “Would you say that since the faster-than-light experiment threatened the validity of your belief, you’re logically justified in having discarded it and instead rely on an emotional connection to your belief that faster-than-light motion is impossible?”

            I don’t understand your point here. When the result came out, many physicists were doubtful. So they investigated further and identified a piece of faulty equipment that had been responsible for the erroneous result . The beauty of this example is that, if further investigation had not turned up any faulty equipment, then the scientists would have built an independent set of experiments to repeat the measurement. And then if those experiments still showed faster-than-light-neutrinos, then scientists would come to accept it as reality. New evidence updates priors, despite initial emotional friction. We’ve seen it happen before. How do you think we ever came to be so sure that nothing can move faster than the speed of light in the first place, or that quantum mechanics describes reality? Those weren’t easy pills to swallow.

          • Anonymous

            I can take Lewis’ conclusion seriously if I grant that convincing evidence for Christianity exists, but why should I ever grant that without being convinced first?

            You do not need to grant them that evidence is convincing to you. You merely need to grant that they have different priors (and accept there mere possibility that their prior isn’t due to trivial mistakes (notice that again, this is a premise in Lewis’s essay)). In fact, the source of those priors are not relevant for this essay, as he pointed out by stating that such an analysis would require a full-dress apologia. You’re missing the point by insisting, ‘…but I don’t like how I think they got their priors!‘ That’s just not relevant here. Feel free to address your complaints at full-dress apologias.

            Re: Faster-than-light experiments,

            You’re soo close (in fact, you’ve already admitted that scientists do the exact thing you’re complaining about… reject (or at least weight much less) evidence that doesn’t fit their priors), but you’re still looking at it from an after-the-fact, my team/their team perspective. Let’s try another example to see if we can help you break out of your box.

            A week or so ago, I read about the idea of time crystals. The reason why I think this example will help you is two-fold:

            1) We can set up competing rational updating between scientists, rather than involving a group you’re too emotionally against to rationally analyze.

            2) We don’t have a definitive answer yet, so you can’t retreat to your emotionally safe box and proclaim, “Well, we solved the problem, so why do I have to care about this example?”

            Let’s go into details. The idea of time crystals is weird and fun precisely because if I ask you whether you think they’ll work, you’re forced to consider rejecting one of your strong priors – either a strong belief in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or a strong belief in quantum mechanics (and the interpretation of it by Nobel laureates).

            My personal prior weights the second law higher, but I don’t think it would be acceptable to say that another scientist would be irrational if his prior weighted quantum mechanics highly enough that he believed it was possible. Where do we get those differing priors? Our differing experiences (perhaps what we actually work on), possibly philosophical premises, and probably even some emotional attachment (I’ll admit that my experiences have left me with a bit of an emotionally attachment to the idea that anyone who claims perpetual motion is a kook).

            We can certainly hope for the unargued belief that we’ll someday be able to resolve the problem definitively, but we don’t yet have that (and it might never come… or at least, not come for a very long time). Which are you gonna pick? Are you gonna call the other guy irrational? What if we adjust your priors a bit so that you’re sitting in the other chair? If you won’t start calling scientists with slightly different priors than you irrational, then the only thing you have left is a complaint about how Christians got to their current priors… that thing that Lewis explicitly stated he was not addressing in this piece.

            Where again is Lewis simply wrong? …besides the fact that you don’t like his priors?

          • KG

            “You’re missing the point by insisting, ‘…but I don’t like how I think they got their priors!’ That’s just not relevant here. Feel free to address your complaints at full-dress apologias.”

            Again, my issue is not with holding particular prior beliefs. My issue is with the refusal to update prior beliefs about the physical world based on evidence one gathers about the physical world. And momentarily jumping to the end of your last comment, this is where I still feel Lewis is wrong. I don’t like his priors, true, but dislike even more how he dismisses physical evidence as a means of updating his prior beliefs about the physical world.

            Regarding time crystals: This is a very interesting choice of discussion. I see the spirit of what you are trying to accomplish in bringing it up, and I’ll try to address that below. But first, I must point out that I think you’ve been misinformed. There does not seem to be any tension between the second law of thermodynamics and the proposed time crystals. Wilczek has been quick to point that out in interviews. The time crystals under investigation could not be used to perform any work – no energy could be extracted from them (if you want a popular account, see for example the end of this article: http://phys.org/news/2012-02-crystals-perpetual-motion-machines.html). This business about breaking time translational symmetry is still interesting though and I’m glad it’s being investigated. For all I know it could still end up being completely bogus, and time will tell.

            But, getting to your more general point. Let’s say that, in some extremely unlikely turn of events, a discovery came along that did put the 2nd law of thermodynamics in conflict with quantum mechanics. Then I’d definitely have to downgrade my confidence in both of them. I might still favor one over the another, but not with the degree of certainty that I had for either of them originally. If you had to ask me my position on their truth, my honest answer would have to be “agnostic” rather than “believer”. The contrast I’m drawing with religious claims about the physical world is that no amount of physical evidence seems to be able to sway believers from their belief to an agnostic level of uncertainty.

          • Anonymous

            My issue is with the refusal to update prior beliefs about the physical world based on evidence one gathers about the physical world.

            For the thousandth time, this is false. When I heard about the faster-than-light experiment, I didn’t refuse to update. I updated… but the effect was small because of where my priors were. This is exactly the same thing Lewis says Christians do. (We can still hope to have all the nice convergent properties in the overall system even when this differing individual behavior occurs.) I don’t see us making any more progress, because you’ve merely asserted a misinterpretation repeatedly. Rather than continue round the merry-go-round, I’ll let you have the last word if you persist in rejecting his boring claim.

            Nice catch on the time crystals. I had downloaded the articles, but haven’t yet had time to read them. I was hoping to get some down time this weekend for that. Thanks anyway for resolving the tension!

            But of course, to respond to your claim of immediately moving to agnostic, this seems strange. Like you said before, the light speed limit and quantum mechanics weren’t easy pills to swallow. People (scientists!) didn’t just jump willy-nilly into agnosticism about their prior beliefs. It was a hard pill precisely because they had strong priors. They didn’t merely ignore the evidence. It was a hard pill because the gradual evidence only started out providing small changes to those priors. This is the exact same (rational) behavior that you’re calling irrational… so long as it’s Christians doing it.

  • Clare Krishan

    gotta love Gotham’s giant on speculative gender: “a culture that places conception, pregnancy, and childbirth under the domain of the “Center for Disease Control” ”
    http://blog.archny.org/images/2013/04/WILLIAM-WILBERFORCE-AWARD-4-27-13.pdf
    (and no, that’s no 7-sex science fiction, he’s describing the reality of non-hypotherical very practical federal policies)

  • Cam

    While I’m not an expert, afaik in humans you could recognise male, female, intersex and androgynous/none. Regarding gender and sexual attraction, there is even more diversity. However, the Church is hung up on the notion that “there are men, who are masculine, and women who are feminine, and that’s it, and any differing situation is defective and probably involves demons”, which is hilariously counterfactual and beneath contempt.

    • Steven Schloeder

      It’s not only “hilariously counterfactual and beneath contempt”, it is an obvious strawman (or a straw androgyne, if you prefer) of your own devising.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

    Apparently, we don’t even have to go off-planet – there is a terrestrial organism that has seven sexes.

  • Bill

    I misread it and thought for a moment he was saying there would be more happy marriages with 7 sexes involved, maybe because they’d never be lonely with 6 other people to talk to?

    Reading the rest of your post, I’d say the ‘redhead’ explanation makes the most sense to me. There are actually some creatures in nature that have more than 2 sexes, check it out: http://ryviewpoint.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/species-with-10000-sexes.html

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20191-zoologger-the-hairy-beast-with-seven-fuzzy-sexes.html

    It would be a bit like having a very specific fetish and trying to find a sexual partner who also has it.

  • BrandonUB

    In summary: if you’re upset at the idea that single people can’t be
    happy, then I am glad to tell you that I don’t think it’s true either,
    and neither did Lewis.

    No, I don’t think anyone holds the idea that single people can’t be happy, and such an idea didn’t “upset” me. The notion that someone’s fundamentally flawed without an opposite gendered partner is what’s so thoroughly appalling. Sure, I’m happier having a female partner that I love, but this doesn’t result in me insisting other people are fundamentally incomplete if they’re not as I am.

    • Roki

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that “someone’s fundamentally flawed without an opposite gendered partner” in the sense that there is something wrong with someone who is not paired (currently or ever) with a member of the opposite sex.

      Rather, complementarity means that there is a unique fittingness to the pairing of the sexes which is not found with a member of the same sex, or among groups (whether mixed or unmixed).

      I see two kinds of unique fit. First, biological: human reproduction requires gametes from one male and one female.

      Second, social: here things get very fuzzy, and are open to historical/cultural/psychological critique, but my experience and the experience of most people I’ve spoken with is that the husband-wife/mother-father relationship is at least as unique as the relationship between siblings, or the relationship between soldiers, or the relationship between a mother and son or a father and daughter.

      In other words, it’s not that you’re broken without that relationship, but that this relationship has unique aspects not found in any other relationship.

      • BrandonUB

        That really ceases to be particularly meaningful at that point then. Romantic relationships are different than friend and family relationships – OK, agreed. Now what? That language of their being a special complementarity implies that there’s more going on there than just the naked statement that relationships vary by context, which I’m pretty sure no one disagrees with.

        Reproduction requires male and female, sure, but this seems an entirely separate point from what occurs in the context of complementary relationships. Delightful marriages without children happen all the time, and children in the absence of marriage happen all the time. At best, I think people are mixing up multiple concepts in a bowl and then saying they must be tied together.

        • Roki

          The complementarity of man and woman is exactly what makes the spousal relationship unique, just as, for example, an absolute freedom of choice in companionship is what makes the friendship relationship unique. Each kind of relationship is defined or differentiated from others, and these differences are indeed meaningful. There really is something different going on between spouses, and between friends, and between siblings, etc. This is why we call different relationships by different names.

          Also, note that I’m not talking about “romantic relationships” – a fuzzy concept if ever there was one. I’m talking about the role of sexedness on marriage relationships.

          Regarding your second point: The classical/traditional point of view is that part of what makes the spousal relationship unique is that it integrates procreation and loving care for one another (and for any children of the union). So, from my perspective, the argument is exactly about whether “people are mixing up multiple concepts in a bowl and then saying they must be tied together.” or whether people are trying to separate things that are intrinsically connected.

        • Steven Schloeder

          I think you are using “complementary” in a different sense than the complementarity of the sexes that are necessary for reproduction.

  • Rick

    Tagentally related but did you know that there are children with three genetic parents walking around on Earth?

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729093.400-dont-fear-babies-made-with-genes-from-three-parents.html

    Maybe if more genetic material was carried outside the nucleus in an alien species, it would be necessary to have more than two parents.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=49001717 Tom Reichardt

    I just now myself sketched out two completely different biologically reasonable schemes to have a 7 sexed species. I am sure I could come up with more.
    The trick is that each of the sexes must contribute genetic material to the formation a new individual. Fertilization would necessarily be more complex than usual, but it could be designed in a way that would work.

    In one scheme I had all 7 sexes capable of both giving birth (to members of their own sex) and fertilizing the eggs of all seven sexes. (One had to have sex with a member of each of the 7 sexes for form a viable zygote.) The adult body had cells containing 7 chromosomes…6 haploid chromosomes plus 1 diploid chromosome. The diploid chromosome determined which sex the adult form expressed. Family structure broke down in this scheme because you had to have sex with another member of your own sex as well as all the others.

    In a different scheme only one of the sexes gave birth (the A type). The other types were essentially all male types. They had 7 haploid chromosomes. everyone was attracted to and had sex with “A” types and “A” types with everyone else, but not each other. This scheme could retain a stable family structure but was susceptible to population explosions due to them of having 7 kids with each pregnancy (one of each sex).

    Anyway, here is the interesting part… I think it would be possible to have a working biological system with 7 sexes, but I believe such a species would have a reproduction system far too complex to every have a shot at evolving from a functional two sex system. A 7 sex species would have to be designed and built by an intelligent being mostly from scratch…just like our 2 sex system was. Synthetic biology in year 3013.

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