I've recently been going through some old family photos using face recognition software and two things have struck me:

  1. Even the unbiased software says that relatives look alike
  2. Everyone has a different face.

The first is "obvious" the second is not. Because why should everyone have a different face?

Let's change the subject slightly. I was looking at the photos and trying to date them using the style of clothing. At first I thought I would be lucky to get the decade, but eventually I realised that many fashions were only being worn within one year. One example was the female tie. This came in around 1913, a few years after men started wearing ties and it only exists in a very few examples which all appear to be in a very short period (judging by other elements of the fashion).

It was even possible to date an agricultural crofting family from the 1890s to within a few years. Before doing this I would have assumed that being the "Sunday best", it was bought once and had to last a lifetime. The reality seems to be that even the poorest in society (at least of those that could afford photos) wore clothes that were changing rapidly.

Perhaps they hired the clothes from the photographer? Perhaps they were just as fashionable as women today, but did it with less clothes? But the fact remains that fashion, and particularly women's fashion, is a very good indicator of the year when photos were taken.

So what is this human compulsion to change one's look?

Back to the faces. If as many have suggested, there was such a thing as "beauty", then all other things being equal one would expect the "beautiful" to be favoured ... the slave girl favoured by the master, the sibling selected above the others to be the new wife. As such, "beauty" would be highly selected for, and if there were one such thing as "beauty" very soon all people would tend to look more and more and more like this template of "beauty".

Ugly people are attractive

So, how can we explain the fact that everyone looks different? If people are attracted to "beauty", we all tend to the same "beautiful" face, so, the only plausible explanation is that there is sexual attraction in people with different faces.Ugly people are attractive ... or at least people who do not fit the one stereotype of "beauty".

And so, after that bombshell of realisation, that we like "difference", we can start to understand why there is sexual selection that favours the differences in fashion.

But we still cannot explain why fashion keeps changing. If there was an evolutionary advantage to be "different" then we would all be different (although there are clearly also limits). But if all that was driving this is a preference to "look different", then this suggests a fairly static different like the face.  It might explain why women slap on make-up like a clowns face to be "different", but it does not explain why they constantly change their clothes.

So, this is my hypothesis: being "different" in looks is not only an evolutionary advantage, but it is also a way to distinguish "fresh meat". It is a way for the young to distinguish their virile youth (i.e. sexuality) from the old fuddy duddies of 20 or 21. Being "fashionable" is sexy ... because it is a way to distinguish the young from the previous generation on the partnership market.

Why men can't understand relationships

When I started looking at the family tree I imaged a small group of people of perhaps 50-100 direct relatives (slightly more than turn up at family wedding). Keeping to the rule of only including those that would appear in the family photos of direct ancestors ... I now have approaching 400 relatives ... the majority still alive. I have no idea how I've got so many relatives (Sex eduction was in its infancy in the 1970s).

E.g. I always wondered who this "Laurence Haseler" that kept turning up at family gatherings was. As the face recognition software keeps asking me to identify him, I can no longer hide the embarrassment of not knowing. So modern computers are now forcing me to work out all these relationships which I have hithertoo been able to pass by. Apparently, now I see the tree, he is a close relative of my father A second cousin, I think is the technical term,.. one of only 400 such close relatives!

But, even when the whole tree is neatly laid out I struggle to work out who is related to who. And, it all seems so simple when one of my Aunts explains it to me ... but in seconds it pops out of my brain and when I try to write it down it doesn't make sense --- these relationships are A NIGHTMARE.

The reality is that family relationships are far more complex than I had imagined. Indeed, the computer database that captures these relationships even now struggles to capture the real nuances. It doesn't for example include friends and colleagues. IT IS JUST FAMILY - it is just dry bones of who married who, had which child, deaths and births.

The human brain (and I have to admit women's are far superior) is still miles ahead of the computer in capturing the subtlety of family relationships. And I can quite understand why men resort to computers to understand what most women just take for granted.

Let's tie the knot together.

So, we have a highly complex relationship where typically about 100s of close family members have various degrees of relationship with 100s of other people. Assuming only 100 would ever meet, that is around 10,000 "relationships" in the typical family. Even using the rules of marriage, birth etc. Men struggle to keep up with women and computers .... are still in the dark age of understanding.

What is the relationship between "Auntie Julie" and "Uncle Bertrand" ... it is difficult enough working out if they are second cousins once removed, (twice locked up) ... but to know what they think about each other .... or indeed, would they mind sitting next to each other at a wedding.

So, I feel I have finally found something where the human (female) brain excels compared to computers.

It is almost as if our brain, our faces, and fashion etc. were designed to create a database of identifiable individuals with a multitude of relationships which only the (female) human brain can really understand.

This appears to be why we need "ugly" people in society - because without those who differ from a stereotype of beauty we would all look the same. But more than that, there is a genetic advantage to being "ugly" - women (and men) must be actively attracted to mates with faces substantially different from some "standard of beauty". So "ugly" really does appear to be sexy! It's because we all need to look distinctive.

And perhaps that is why we have this brain ... to work out whether whether that man's ugly face will fit in with the 1,000s relationships ... and hopefully make the offspring ... ugly enough to be attractive.


Addendum

When moving this across to Mons-Grupius.co.uk I spotted a couple of other articles: