Is every generation more attractive than the last? — a conjecture
Has the following ever happened to you?
You meet someone of about your own age and are struck by how attractive that person is. Then, a bit later, you meet that person’s parents and are amazed to find that they are particularly unattractive people. “How is this possible?”, you ask. “How can such a good-looking person be the progeny of such homely parents?”
I have had moments like that a number of times in my life. And, most likely, they can be explained as a purely psychological phenomenon: something like the same color illusion, where minor/nonexistent differences are enhanced by contrast.
Nonetheless, it occurred to me a little while ago to ask a sort of audacious and perhaps silly question. Namely, is there some reason why people tend to be more attractive than their parents? Is it possible that each generation actually is more attractive than the previous?
Let me present a rough argument, given below, as to why that might be the case. It’s a fairly unconvincing and perhaps completely meritless piece of speculation, but either way I’d be glad to hear your opinion.
A crude argument: genetics as a process of averaging
There has been a fair amount of research during the last decade which suggests that averageness is attractive, at least when it comes to facial features. What I mean is this: if you take a bunch of faces and then you average their features together, the resulting “average” face will probably be more attractive than any of the individual faces that went into it. There are lots of cool demos on the internet showing this phenomenon; they’re pretty fun to play around with.
There is, of course, an evolutionary argument for why this should be true: evolution tends to select for healthy traits and to weed out unhealthy ones, so it makes sense that we should be attracted to the “average” person who possesses good traits rather than to the “uncommon” person who possesses bad traits. It’s not a terribly convincing argument, but then again I rarely feel very convinced by evolutionary arguments.
What I do know is that reproduction is itself sort of a process of averaging. When two people produce a child, that child has some of the father’s attributes, some of the mother’s, and some that are a hybrid of the two. So after many generations, a given child represents a kind of (stochastic) “average” of all the descendants whose genetic material contributed to its own.
So the basic argument is this: if averaging makes a face more attractive, and if every child is an average of his parents, then doesn’t that make a child likely to be more attractive than his parents?
Now, there may be some terrible flaw in my understanding of genetics (or aesthetics) here. It does sound a little silly to claim that humans are getting relentlessly more attractive over time. But you know, I never thought the Venus de Milo (supposedly the ideal of Grecian beauty 70 generations ago) was all that pretty.