Stephen J. Gould

Eight Little Piggies: Bibliographical Excerpts

"Bateson built an engenious device that exposed individual quail to five birds of the opposite sex, but of different degrees of relationship: a sibling nestmate, a sibling never seen before, a first cousin, a third cousin, and an unrelated bird. Both males and females generally preferred first cousins over all alternatives. ... Bateson therefore concludes, from this and other arguments, that quail may be following a highly abstract aethetic rule---prefer intermediary degrees of familiarity, not so close as to be cloying, not so distant as to be overly strange. If he is right, an elegant solution to the problem of avioding incest suggests itself. Quail are not Mendelian calculators. They are, rather, following a deeper, more abstract, rule of aesthetic preference that may be common to a wide range of animals and neurologies. Maximal attraction to intermediate familiarity will automatically exclude disadvantageous closest kin as potential mates. (Gould S.J.(1993) Eight Little Piggies. Norton: New York pp. 379-80)