Whirr2006-10-23
The trouble with women's brains.
Whenever I hear some say "there's an interesting difference between men and women's brains," I become very suspicious. I usually interrupt them immediately and demanding that they produce peer-reviewed papers to back up their point. They are often surprised by this, because I pride myself on being a courteous conversationalist and, besides, they haven't actually made any points yet. No matter, the first sentence is enough. From the moment they say "women's brains", their side of the conversation is (almost always) distressingly predictable.

It usually begins with a very reasonable and easily verifiable fact about male/female biological difference. For example, the assertion that men have, on average, larger brain mass. Anyone listening could dig up a few corpses and prove or disprove the assertion merely by weighing the brains.

The hapless discussant invariably moves on to invoke vague scientific studies that they cannot cite off hand, but surely could if they had a few days to look them up. At this point, the assertions are still empirically falsifiable, although not by anyone taking part in the conversation. "Men have more neurons, but they are connected in a very straightforward fashion. Women have fewer, but there are more connections between them." Perhaps they do. Perhaps this has been proven.

Now the fun begins! At this point they begin to tell a story that "follows logically" from the previously mentioned facts. This story is always described in the exact same way that the science had been, and an inexperienced listener might think that it was yet another fact, also verifiable and Confirmed by Science. In fact it is just a “what if” that has never been (and often cannot be) proven. "Directly connected neurons fire faster, and promote straightforward thoughts. However, neurons with a larger number of connections make it easier to see relationships between things. Each neuron is kind of like a little thought." (Note the gross oversimplification of a complex, poorly understood process. That is common at this stage of the conversation.)

And then, the glorious conclusion. Interestingly, this conclusion invariably confirms a pre-existing cultural trait of men or women that is heavily reinforced in the speaker's own culture. Despite this, there is never an attempt to control for cultural training--the biological "theory" suffices all on its own. "And so that is why men are the logicians, the engineers, and the CEOs, while women have better intuition and are more emotionally sensitive."

Optionally at this point the speaker may choose to give an evolutionary explanation for the “inate difference” that they have just “proven”. “The hunters had to make fast decisions, see; while the women were raising babies and had no need for logic way back then…”

Finally, as a sop to the now-outraged feminists in the audience, the speaker hastens to counter claims of chauvinism: "But really both logic and intuition are necessary, each just as valuable. Mere logic on its own is never enough. Where would we be without the female's superior emotional senses, after all?"

That’s all pretty crappy, really. It’s bad science, and it’s dangerous. What’s more, in fifty years or so it will really make you look like an ass, just like all of those people who used to “prove” that Negros were naturally worse at book learning. Hell, it makes you look like an ass right now. Why does it matter? Because there is a serious discrepancy between the work that women do now and the work that men do now, today, in the real world. To argue that this difference is biological is to argue that there’s nothing wrong with that. It is to say that girls might want to grow up into accountants, but then again they also might want to grow up and become linebackers or sperm donors—tough luck.

So, anyway, if you want to convince me that men prefer sex with multiple partners while women are naturally faithful, or that boys are little soldiers and girls are all nurses-to-be, or one of a thousand other “it’s not culture, it’s the way we’re wired” stories, save some time and email me the peer-reviewed paper. If you actually want me to read it, it should involve a lot of experimentation that controls for cultural influence. I'm imagining a lot of pre-verbal infants, a bunch of cross-cultural uniformity (and it better be strictly uniform) and maybe some feral children. Yeah, sure it's difficult to control for culture, but maybe you shouldn't be making unfalsifiable statements in the first place? And by the way, this goes for all you white supremacists, too.

I didn’t mean for this rant to go on for quite so long. The whole point of it was to introduce this fantastic new play I’ve sjust written. I hope you like it:

A town square in Athens at noon. SOCRATES, a rich venture capitalist, meets his friend SIMPLICUS, an inventor.

SIMPLICUS: Socrates! I have an amazing new invention, would you be interested in funding it?

SOCRATES: Tell me all about it.

SIMPLICUS: Some background first. All matter is made of atoms, and the atoms themselves are made of particles smaller still.

SOCRATES: Yes, clearly.

SIMPLICUS: Now under certain circumstances, a change in one of these small particles here can affect a completely different particle far away. This is known as quantum entanglement, and scientists have proven it with science.

SOCRATES: Well, I suppose I'll take your word about it, then.

SIMPLICUS: It is totally possible to bind two particles together and to make a subtle change in one of them. Then according to String Theory, the harmonic resonance should cause them to seek each other out.

SOCRATES: OK, now you're just making stuff up.

SIMPLICUS: Look, are you a quantum physicist? I thought not. So in my invention what I've done is I've entangled two little particles (you can think of them essentially as homing beacons--a slight simplification of the Science). One of them is in this device here in my hand, and the other is deep within the center of the Earth's core. Thus, when I let go, the entangled particles seek each other, and my device rushes straight toward the center of the Earth, unerringly. A very useful tool, you must admit.

SOCRATES: That's gravity. Gravity does that.

SIMPLICUS: Well sure, gravity also helps, but the underlying cause is my quantumly particularized entanglement!

SOCRATES: You're a loony.

SIMPLICUS: I'm brilliant. How many would you like to buy?

SOCRATES repeatedly beats him about the head and shoulders.

Comments
katya2006-11-02
I love you.