Radiolab finished its episode, ‘What’s Left When You’re Right‘, featuring (in part) a story from Jonathan Gottschall. Long story short – Jonathan is a young English professor who took-up mixed martial arts. He was doing well early in his training and was feeling confident when he stepped into the ring against a south-paw opponent who (despite a little more experience) was awkward, slower and less athletic. Once in the ring, though, he gots his ass kicked.
Jonathan bobbed, weaved, and jabbed; the guy was right there in front of him and he should have be able to hit him, but he couldn’t. Instead, he was getting pounded repeatedly.
When the bell rangs and he returned to his corner to collect his thoughts, he thought to himself, “That seals it – the Faurie Raymond hypothesis has to be true.”
What is the Faurie-Raymond Hypothesis? Essentially, it is called the ‘fighting hypothesis’ where a “frequency-dependent benefit for left-handers could be found in an advantage they have in fights because of their unfamiliar handedness. People engaged in fights have a higher chance of encountering right-handed opponents and are therefore better prepared to fight against right-handers, thus giving left-handers a better chance of winning fights as long as left-handedness is rare.” (1) This theory has been used to explain how, despite evolutionary pressures to right-handedness, left handedness persists (and with an increased prevalence of left-handedness in – according to Faurie and Raymond – in non-pacificst cultures).
Well, this particular hypothesis was put forth in the 1995 and since that time, there has been some compelling evidence to the contrary.
So, now Jonathan has his own theory. It goes something like this: left-handers are disproportionately active/successful in sports, so they are more appealing to the ladies. As they are more appealing to women, they have a disproportiate opportunity to mate compared to their right-handed counterparts and they have a better chance of making more babies.
Here is his contribution to Edge.org in 2012:
“Many studies have since examined the Faurie-Raymond Hypothesis. Results have been mixed, but facts have surfaced that are, to my taste, quite decidedly ugly. A recent and impressive inquiry, found no evidence that lefties are over-represented among the Eipo of Highland New Guinea.
It hurts to surrender a beloved idea–one you just knew was true, one that was stamped into your mind by lived experience not statistics. And I’m not yet ready to consign this one to the bone yard of lovely–but dead–science. Faurie and Raymond brought in sports data to shore up their main story about fighting. But I think the sports data may actually be the main story. Lefty genes may have survived more through southpaw success in play fights than in real fights—a possibility Faurie and Raymond acknowledge in a later paper. Athletic contests are important across cultures, and if we think they are frivolous we are wrong. Around the world, sport is mainly a male preserve, and winners—from captains of football teams to traditional African wrestlers to Native American runners and lacrosse players—gain more than mere laurels. They elevate their cultural status—they win the admiration of men, the desire of women (research confirms the stereotype: athletic men have more sexual success). This raises a bigger possibility: that our species has been shaped more than we know by the survival of the sportiest.”
He brings this up in conversation on the podcast to which another guest of the show (an expert on left-handedness) replies: “How can I lovingly say that sounds like total garbage? There is just too much biology at play here and too much ancient prehistoric biology at play for this to matter as much as your dear english professor friend wants it to matter.”
But Jonathan remains steadfast to his beliefs when he says, “Here is the thing…whether or not this has been proven scientifically, personally, I know it is true.”
This is followed by playfully derisive laughter. The hosts and the other guest are laughing not with him, but at the notion that somehow, someway, he knows better than the science. They understand that it is laughable that one man can ‘personally’ claim something to be true contrary to scientific evidence because of personal experience of this kind. Jonathan, however, is undeterred:
“I know it is true because I experienced it. I know it is true in a way that statistics can’t touch. I know it’s true from being in the cage, having the undoubtable truth just pounded into my brain. Literally. I know its true.”