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Why have historically most inventors been men?

Why have historically most inventors been men?



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I noticed something strange when I looked at about.com's list of famous historical inventors. You can see that most of the inventors are men, and only a few are women.

  • Can this be explained by cognitive science in terms of men's brains having better abilities for inventing something?
  • Or is this due to social factors or something else?

A large part is cultural, because, until recently, the people with the best education and most of the money have been men.

Sexism kept women out of schools for a long time. It also kept pushing women into what were perceived to be more appropriate studies (nothing technical) when they were allowed into schools.

Have a look at the sexism page at Wikipedia.

There is some evidence, as discussed in this Wikipedia article, there are differences between male and female human brains. Especially in spacial temporal reasoning regions and the language areas. As well as Wikipedia, in the book Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of The Mind[1], the authors state that human females are less good at the maths people are taught at school, which is linked to spacial reasoning.

However, this disparity is across the species as a whole. It is an average. Inventors, by their very nature, are not average. Thus the neurological differences are not the main contributing factor to why you see more men in your list than women.

Also, have a look at confirmation bias.

[1] Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of The Mind, 2nd ed. M. S. Gazzaniga, R. B. Ivry, G. R. Mangun. Page 602


This is a big topic, which I don't feel I can do justice to, but here are a few thoughts nonetheless. It's also important to see how resort to biological arguments could help to perpetuate such gender differences.

Brain is not behaviour

Brain differences are irrelevant if they do not manifest in behaviour. Thus, to show that size of structure of the brain varies between genders may be suggestive. However, to use this to explain gender differences in the historical differences in inventors is a big leap.

Empirical evidence for gender differences

The best data I've seen examining the size of gender differences on a wide range of psychological variables was the summary of meta analyses by Hyde (2005). Hyde puts forward

the gender similarities hypothesis, which holds that males and females are similar on most, but not all, psychological variables. Results from a review of 46 meta-analyses support the gender similarities hypothesis. Gender differences can vary substantially in magnitude at different ages and depend on the context in which measurement occurs. Overinflated claims of gender differences carry substantial costs in areas such as the workplace and relationships.

In particular, check out the first section of Table 1 of Hyde (2005) where you can get a summary of meta-analyses of gender differences in cognitive ability. In general the differences between males and females tend to be fairly small, and there are several meta-analyses that found females to have slightly superior ability to males. Furthermore, such studies don't prove whether the generally small differences observed will change in the future should society change in its treatment of males and females.

What makes a great inventor?

I imagine that all sorts of factors related to social context, individual traits, and learning experiences would be related to the emergence of great inventions. Furthermore, the emergence of great inventors is often seen within a broader historical context, which encompasses periods of time where women's access to education, access to career opportunities, and role expectations provided minimal opportunity to become a great inventor.

I think the expertise literature would provide a reasonable lens for thinking about what it takes to become an expert. E.g., check out some of the articles by K. Anders Ericsson. It emphasises the importance of spending thousands of hours of practice and effort in acquiring the skills required to become an expert.

Thus, we might switch the question around to say, what causes someone to spend thousands of hours devoted to learning and developing skills relevant to making a great invention?

References

  • Hyde, J. S. (2005). The Gender Similarity Hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 6, 581, 592. PDF

First of all, I agree that socialization and culture are most certainly the main reasons why today most famous inventors are male.

If you are looking for sex differences that may explain further variance, studies have found that the variance in IQ (g) among males is greater than among females:

Some studies have identified the degree of IQ variance as a difference between males and females. Males tend to show higher variance on scores, though this may differ between countries. A 2005 study by Ian Deary, Paul Irwing, Geoff Der, and Timothy Bates, focusing on the ASVAB showed a significantly higher variance in male scores. The study also found a very small (d' ≈ 0.07, less than 7%, of a standard deviation) average male advantage in g. A 2006 study by Rosalind Arden and Robert Plomin focused on children aged 2, 3, 4, 7, 9 and 10 and stated that there was greater variance "among boys at every age except age two despite the girls' mean advantage from ages two to seven. Girls are significantly over-represented, as measured by chi-square tests, at the high tail and boys at the low tail at ages 2, 3 and 4. By age 10 the boys have a higher mean, greater variance and are over-represented in the high tail."

(see Wikipedia for references)


A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking

The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in "authority" to have sound knowledge and insight. He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief.

He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as "Socratic Questioning" and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. In his mode of questioning, Socrates highlighted the need in thinking for clarity and logical consistency.

Socrates set the agenda for the tradition of critical thinking, namely, to reflectively question common beliefs and explanations, carefully distinguishing those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which — however appealing they may be to our native egocentrism, however much they serve our vested interests, however comfortable or comforting they may be — lack adequate evidence or rational foundation to warrant our belief.

Socrates’ practice was followed by the critical thinking of Plato (who recorded Socrates’ thought), Aristotle, and the Greek skeptics, all of whom emphasized that things are often very different from what they appear to be and that only the trained mind is prepared to see through the way things look to us on the surface (delusive appearances) to the way they really are beneath the surface (the deeper realities of life). From this ancient Greek tradition emerged the need, for anyone who aspired to understand the deeper realities, to think systematically, to trace implications broadly and deeply, for only thinking that is comprehensive, well-reasoned, and responsive to objections can take us beyond the surface.

In the Middle Ages, the tradition of systematic critical thinking was embodied in the writings and teachings of such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas (Sumna Theologica) who to ensure his thinking met the test of critical thought, always systematically stated, considered, and answered all criticisms of his ideas as a necessary stage in developing them. Aquinas heightened our awareness not only of the potential power of reasoning but also of the need for reasoning to be systematically cultivated and "cross-examined." Of course, Aquinas’ thinking also illustrates that those who think critically do not always reject established beliefs, only those beliefs that lack reasonable foundations.

In the Renaissance (15th and 16th Centuries), a flood of scholars in Europe began to think critically about religion, art, society, human nature, law, and freedom. They proceeded with the assumption that most of the domains of human life were in need of searching analysis and critique. Among these scholars were Colet, Erasmus, and Moore in England. They followed up on the insight of the ancients.

Francis Bacon, in England, was explicitly concerned with the way we misuse our minds in seeking knowledge. He recognized explicitly that the mind cannot safely be left to its natural tendencies. In his book The Advancement of Learning, he argued for the importance of studying the world empirically. He laid the foundation for modern science with his emphasis on the information-gathering processes. He also called attention to the fact that most people, if left to their own devices, develop bad habits of thought (which he called "idols") that lead them to believe what is false or misleading. He called attention to "Idols of the tribe" (the ways our mind naturally tends to trick itself), "Idols of the market-place" (the ways we misuse words), "Idols of the theater" (our tendency to become trapped in conventional systems of thought), and "Idols of the schools" (the problems in thinking when based on blind rules and poor instruction). His book could be considered one of the earliest texts in critical thinking, for his agenda was very much the traditional agenda of critical thinking.

Some fifty years later in France, Descartes wrote what might be called the second text in critical thinking, Rules For the Direction of the Mind. In it, Descartes argued for the need for a special systematic disciplining of the mind to guide it in thinking. He articulated and defended the need in thinking for clarity and precision. He developed a method of critical thought based on the principle of systematic doubt. He emphasized the need to base thinking on well-thought through foundational assumptions. Every part of thinking, he argued, should be questioned, doubted, and tested.

In the same time period, Sir Thomas Moore developed a model of a new social order, Utopia, in which every domain of the present world was subject to critique. His implicit thesis was that established social systems are in need of radical analysis and critique. The critical thinking of these Renaissance and post-Renaissance scholars opened the way for the emergence of science and for the development of democracy, human rights, and freedom for thought.

In the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli’s The Prince critically assessed the politics of the day, and laid the foundation for modern critical political thought. He refused to assume that government functioned as those in power said it did. Rather, he critically analyzed how it did function and laid the foundation for political thinking that exposes both, on the one hand, the real agendas of politicians and, on the other hand, the many contradictions and inconsistencies of the hard, cruel, world of the politics of his day

Hobbes and Locke (in 16th and 17th Century England) displayed the same confidence in the critical mind of the thinker that we find in Machiavelli. Neither accepted the traditional picture of things dominant in the thinking of their day. Neither accepted as necessarily rational that which was considered "normal" in their culture. Both looked to the critical mind to open up new vistas of learning. Hobbes adopted a naturalistic view of the world in which everything was to be explained by evidence and reasoning. Locke defended a common sense analysis of everyday life and thought. He laid the theoretical foundation for critical thinking about basic human rights and the responsibilities of all governments to submit to the reasoned criticism of thoughtful citizens.

It was in this spirit of intellectual freedom and critical thought that people such as Robert Boyle (in the 17th Century) and Sir Isaac Newton (in the 17th and 18th Century) did their work. In his Sceptical Chymist, Boyle severely criticized the chemical theory that had preceded him. Newton, in turn, developed a far-reaching framework of thought which roundly criticized the traditionally accepted world view. He extended the critical thought of such minds as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. After Boyle and Newton, it was recognized by those who reflected seriously on the natural world that egocentric views of world must be abandoned in favor of views based entirely on carefully gathered evidence and sound reasoning.

Another significant contribution to critical thinking was made by the thinkers of the French Enlightenment: Bayle, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Diderot. They all began with the premise that the human mind, when disciplined by reason, is better able to figure out the nature of the social and political world. What is more, for these thinkers, reason must turn inward upon itself, in order to determine weaknesses and strengths of thought. They valued disciplined intellectual exchange, in which all views had to be submitted to serious analysis and critique. They believed that all authority must submit in one way or another to the scrutiny of reasonable critical questioning.

Eighteenth Century thinkers extended our conception of critical thought even further, developing our sense of the power of critical thought and of its tools. Applied to the problem of economics, it produced Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. In the same year, applied to the traditional concept of loyalty to the king, it produced the Declaration of Independence. Applied to reason itself, it produced Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

In the 19th Century, critical thought was extended even further into the domain of human social life by Comte and Spencer. Applied to the problems of capitalism, it produced the searching social and economic critique of Karl Marx. Applied to the history of human culture and the basis of biological life, it led to Darwin’s Descent of Man. Applied to the unconscious mind, it is reflected in the works of Sigmund Freud. Applied to cultures, it led to the establishment of the field of Anthropological studies. Applied to language, it led to the field of Linguistics and to many deep probings of the functions of symbols and language in human life.

In the 20th Century, our understanding of the power and nature of critical thinking has emerged in increasingly more explicit formulations. In 1906, William Graham Sumner published a land-breaking study of the foundations of sociology and anthropology, Folkways, in which he documented the tendency of the human mind to think sociocentrically and the parallel tendency for schools to serve the (uncritical) function of social indoctrination :

"Schools make persons all on one pattern, orthodoxy. School education, unless it is regulated by the best knowledge and good sense, will produce men and women who are all of one pattern, as if turned in a lathe. An orthodoxy is produced in regard to all the great doctrines of life. It consists of the most worn and commonplace opinions which are common in the masses. The popular opinions always contain broad fallacies, half-truths, and glib generalizations (p. 630).

At the same time, Sumner recognized the deep need for critical thinking in life and in education:

"Criticism is the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances. Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty. A teacher of any subject who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded. They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens” (pp. 632, 633).

John Dewey agreed. From his work, we have increased our sense of the pragmatic basis of human thought (its instrumental nature), and especially its grounding in actual human purposes, goals, and objectives. From the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein we have increased our awareness not only of the importance of concepts in human thought, but also of the need to analyze concepts and assess their power and limitations. From the work of Piaget, we have increased our awareness of the egocentric and sociocentric tendencies of human thought and of the special need to develop critical thought which is able to reason within multiple standpoints, and to be raised to the level of "conscious realization." From the massive contribution of all the "hard" sciences, we have learned the power of information and the importance of gathering information with great care and precision, and with sensitivity to its potential inaccuracy, distortion, or misuse. From the contribution of depth-psychology, we have learned how easily the human mind is self-deceived, how easily it unconsciously constructs illusions and delusions, how easily it rationalizes and stereotypes, projects and scapegoats.

To sum up, the tools and resources of the critical thinker have been vastly increased in virtue of the history of critical thought. Hundreds of thinkers have contributed to its development. Each major discipline has made some contribution to critical thought. Yet for most educational purposes, it is the summing up of base-line common denominators for critical thinking that is most important. Let us consider now that summation.

The Common Denominators of Critical Thinking Are the Most Important By-products of the History of Critical Thinking

We now recognize that critical thinking, by its very nature, requires, for example, the systematic monitoring of thought that thinking, to be critical, must not be accepted at face value but must be analyzed and assessed for its clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logicalness. We now recognize that critical thinking, by its very nature, requires, for example, the recognition that all reasoning occurs within points of view and frames of reference that all reasoning proceeds from some goals and objectives, has an informational base that all data when used in reasoning must be interpreted, that interpretation involves concepts that concepts entail assumptions, and that all basic inferences in thought have implications. We now recognize that each of these dimensions of thinking need to be monitored and that problems of thinking can occur in any of them.

The result of the collective contribution of the history of critical thought is that the basic questions of Socrates can now be much more powerfully and focally framed and used. In every domain of human thought, and within every use of reasoning within any domain, it is now possible to question:

  • ends and objectives,
  • the status and wording of questions,
  • the sources of information and fact,
  • the method and quality of information collection,
  • the mode of judgment and reasoning used,
  • the concepts that make that reasoning possible,
  • the assumptions that underlie concepts in use,
  • the implications that follow from their use, and
  • the point of view or frame of reference within which reasoning takes place.

In other words, questioning that focuses on these fundamentals of thought and reasoning are now baseline in critical thinking. It is beyond question that intellectual errors or mistakes can occur in any of these dimensions, and that students need to be fluent in talking about these structures and standards.

Independent of the subject studied, students need to be able to articulate thinking about thinking that reflects basic command of the intellectual dimensions of thought: "Let’s see, what is the most fundamental issue here? From what point of view should I approach this problem? Does it make sense for me to assume this? From these data may I infer this? What is implied in this graph? What is the fundamental concept here? Is this consistent with that? What makes this question complex? How could I check the accuracy of these data? If this is so, what else is implied? Is this a credible source of information? Etc." (For more information on the basic elements of thought and basic intellectual criteria and standards, see Appendices C and D).

With intellectual language such as this in the foreground, students can now be taught at least minimal critical thinking moves within any subject field. What is more, there is no reason in principle that students cannot take the basic tools of critical thought which they learn in one domain of study and extend it (with appropriate adjustments) to all the other domains and subjects which they study. For example, having questioned the wording of a problem in math, I am more likely to question the wording of a problem in the other subjects I study.

As a result of the fact that students can learn these generalizable critical thinking moves, they need not be taught history simply as a body of facts to memorize they can now be taught history as historical reasoning. Classes can be designed so that students learn to think historically and develop skills and abilities essential to historical thought. Math can be taught so that the emphasis is on mathematical reasoning. Students can learn to think geographically, economically, biologically, chemically, in courses within these disciplines. In principle, then, all students can be taught so that they learn how to bring the basic tools of disciplined reasoning into every subject they study. Unfortunately, it is apparent, given the results of this study, that we are very far from this ideal state of affairs. We now turn to the fundamental concepts and principles tested in standardized critical thinking tests.


Early men and women were equal, say scientists

The authors of the study argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social network (probably not including gardening). Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Features

The authors of the study argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social network (probably not including gardening). Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Features

Last modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 21.25 GMT

Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.

A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.

Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

Dyble says the latest findings suggest that equality between the sexes may have been a survival advantage and played an important role in shaping human society and evolution. “Sexual equality is one of a important suite of changes to social organisation, including things like pair-bonding, our big, social brains, and language, that distinguishes humans,” he said. “It’s an important one that hasn’t really been highlighted before.”

The study, published in the journal Science, set out to investigate the apparent paradox that while people in hunter-gatherer societies show strong preferences for living with family members, in practice the groups they live in tend to comprise few closely related individuals.

The scientists collected genealogical data from two hunter-gatherer populations, one in the Congo and one in the Philippines, including kinship relations, movement between camps and residence patterns, through hundreds of interviews. In both cases, people tend to live in groups of around 20, moving roughly every 10 days and subsisting on hunted game, fish and gathered fruit, vegetables and honey.

The scientists constructed a computer model to simulate the process of camp assortment, based on the assumption that people would chose to populate an empty camp with their close kin: siblings, parents and children.

When only one sex had influence over the process, as is typically the case in male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies, tight hubs of related individuals emerged. However, the average number of related individuals is predicted to be much lower when men and women have an equal influence – closely matching what was seen in the populations that were studied.

“When only men have influence over who they are living with, the core of any community is a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery,” said Dyble. “If men and women decide, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.”

The authors argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social networks and closer cooperation between unrelated individuals. “It gives you a far more expansive social network with a wider choice of mates, so inbreeding would be less of an issue,” said Dyble. “And you come into contact with more people and you can share innovations, which is something that humans do par excellence.”

Dr Tamas David-Barrett, a behavioural scientist at the University of Oxford, agreed: “This is a very neat result,” he said. “If you’re able to track your kin further away, you’d be able to have a much broader network. All you’d need to do is get together every now and then for some kind of feast.”

The study suggests that it was only with the dawn of agriculture, when people were able to accumulate resources for the first time, that an imbalance emerged. “Men can start to have several wives and they can have more children than women,” said Dyble. “It pays more for men to start accumulating resources and becomes favourable to form alliances with male kin.”

Dyble said that egalitarianism may even have been one of the important factors that distinguished our ancestors from our primate cousins. “Chimpanzees live in quite aggressive, male-dominated societies with clear hierarchies,” he said. “As a result, they just don’t see enough adults in their lifetime for technologies to be sustained.”

The findings appear to be supported by qualitative observations of the hunter-gatherer groups in the study. In the Philippines population, women are involved in hunting and honey collecting and while there is still a division of labour, overall men and women contribute a similar number of calories to the camp. In both groups, monogamy is the norm and men are active in childcare.

Andrea Migliano, of University College London and the paper’s senior author, said: “Sex equality suggests a scenario where unique human traits, such as cooperation with unrelated individuals, could have emerged in our evolutionary past.”


5 Galileo Galilee

Galileo Galilee or "Gal-Gal," as he is more commonly known, was an Italian astronomer, physicist and mathematician. If you asked the average high schooler what Galileo's lasting contribution to science was, they would most likely reply "the telescope" before going off to listen to their Rhianna records and play with their Digimon, (Is that what high schoolers do these days? We don't even know anymore). Well, put down that Digital Monster, high schooler, because we are about to blow your mind: Gal-Gal did not invent the telescope. Also, Rhianna sucks.

Who Actually Invented It?
While everyone was probably looking up at the stars, no one was doing it quite as hard as Dutchman Hans Lippershey. In 1608, Lippershey completed the first ever telescope and attempted to receive a patent for it, but was denied for no discernible reason.


Lippershey's telescope (internet re-creation)

A few countries over, when Galileo heard about Lippershey's work, he quickly built his own telescope in 1609. A telescope, it should be noted, that could see just a little bit further than Lippershey's.

Necessary? Not particularly. Emasculating? Oh, you betcha. While Galileo never registered a patent for his telescope, the fact remains that his name is synonymous with the telescope, while Lippershey was most likely absent from your old textbooks.

In a final shot to show just how fairly each scientist was rewarded, four moons surrounding Jupiter are named after Galileo, and do you know what carries Lippershey's name? A crater. A fucking crater on Earth's moon will forever be known as Lippershey's Crater. The Moon's Ass Crack.

Related: 5 Famous Bible Stories With Logical Scientific Explanations


10 Under-Appreciated Or Forgotten Inventors

Throughout the years, both men and women have contributed to the steady growth and evolution of mankind in their own special ways some sought to work in the realm of mathematics whilst others opted towards the development of heavy machinery or musical devices. All of the many contributions brought forth by innovative minds around the world have in some way made things easier or transformed previously perceived &ldquoimpossibilities&rdquo into realities. Unfortunately, many of the world&rsquos most influential inventors received little to no recognition throughout their lives despite the seemingly obvious importance of their ideas. Here are the top ten inventors who received less recognition than they deserved for their efforts.

The first person to ever formerly invent a form of glue was Peter Cooper (he patented a kind of fish glue). Chances are you&rsquove never heard of him or any of the people who patented other forms of glue. Of course, you&rsquove definitely never heard of glue&rsquos original inventors as they resided in Roman and/or Greek civilizations centuries ago. Everyone uses glue now but nobody ever really remembers glue makers for their achievements in the creation of sticky stuff.

Ever wonder who invented something as simple as play-doh? Of course you have since the inventors are barely remembered to this day. Much like a large number of other inventions, &ldquoplay-doh&rdquo was created by accident. It was originally developed to be used as wallpaper cleaner before its potential as modeling clay for kids was noticed. When it first began being sold (in 1956), it came in a single color that was close to white (but not quite). The very next year, &ldquoplay-doh&rdquo was released in different colors and kids everywhere rejoiced (though not all at once).

If you are in doubt of this simple invention&rsquos implications in our society then you surely are omitting the fact that just about every child in the world knows what the fuzzy pumper barber shop version of this toy looks like.

Although something as simple as a zipper may hardly seem like an invention to most people nowadays as we are all quite accustomed to them, they were not around since the dawn of time. The zipper in its modern form was actually invented by Gideon Sundback in 1917 and was originally named the &ldquocontinuous clothing closure&rdquo (which just rolls right off the tongue).

Initially, it was not adopted into the clothing industry as people felt it looked far too uncouth to be effectively used as a part of any garment. Instead, it slowly made its way into the world by being used in the creation of boots and tobacco pouches. Later on, it received its catchy name from the marketing group at B.F. Goodrich and it has been used in most forms of clothing ever since. No thanks were ever really given to the creator of the modern design though so its importance must have been overlooked.

Lyman was known to be a very dedicated inventor he worked hard to come up with a truly useful idea that people now use every day, the can opener. Although it was not his only invention, it is known to have been his most famous one. In 1870, Lyman successfully created the world&rsquos first rotating wheel can opener. Prior to Lyman&rsquos invention, the only can openers that were available were basically just variations of a knife. With Lyman&rsquos novel device, the procedure of opening a can was made much simpler. Unfortunately, Lyman&rsquos invention (though ingenious) was not utilized by many due to the fact that the can needed to be pierced before you could use it. In 1891, Lyman died with very little recognition for his achievement besides the patents he had been awarded for it.

Henry Blair&rsquos misfortune as an inventor came primarily due to his race. In his patent records, Henry Blair is listed as a &ldquocolored man&rdquo (the only description of this kind in early patent records) and all of his patents were signed only with an &ldquox&rdquo as he was illiterate. His most notable creation was an automatic cotton planter that tilled the ground and dispensed seeds through a special wheel-powered device.

Blair was presumably a slave however, the law for the issuing of patents allowed both slaves and free men to obtain patents at the time. In 1858, this law was changed to exclude slaves from obtaining patents. It was not changed back until 1871. Unfortunately, Blair died in 1860, eleven years too early to have benefitted from this change.

Walter Hunt was an American mechanic born in New York in 1796. Throughout his life he worked as an inventor and he managed to create a variety of different devices. The lockstitch sewing machine, safety pin, a forerunner of the Winchester repeating rifle, a successful flax spinner, knife sharpener, streetcar bell, hard-coal-burning stove, artificial stone, street sweeping machinery, the velocipede, and the ice plough are his most notable creations.

Many of his creations have served as indispensable additions and improvements to basic activities and devices in modern times. This is especially true for things like the simple safety pin and the complicated sewing machine. Unfortunately, none of his extremely useful inventions managed to win him an award throughout his life (nor afterwards).

Something as common as simple Velcro was not always used for clothing purposes nor was it always taken seriously. In fact, the idea and its creator were both scoffed at initially. De Mestral&rsquos invention was refused by many people due to the fact that it was not &ldquoaesthetically pleasing&rdquo (its materials were originally wool and scraps of leather) and it was known to wear out quickly.

De Mestral struggled to get his invention used until his patent expired in 1978. He died in Commugny Switzerland without any awards for his efforts however, the municipality named an avenue after him posthumously upon recognizing his accomplishment afterwards. He was also later inducted into the Inventor&rsquos Hall of Fame in 1999 for his invention.

Philo Farnsworth was an inventor from the U.S. who crafted a couple of extremely important devices during his life (1906 &ndash 1971). He is known now as the first person to create an electronic television device which he called the image &ldquodissector&rdquo. He also helped to bring forth the idea of nuclear energy through fusion with the &ldquoFarnsworth-Hirsch fusor,&rdquo a device that could produce electrons in abundance and is known to be the main source for the approach taken to modern fusion design. He held 165 patents mostly in the fields of radio and television.

He was presented an Eagle Scout award when people noticed that he had earned it too bad this didn&rsquot happen until 2006 (over thirty years after his death). The award was given to his wife who then died four months later.

Winkel was living in Amsterdam in 1814 when he first discovered that a pendulum that was correctly weighted on either of its pivot&rsquos sides could steadily keep time, even very slow tempos. He called his invention the &ldquomusical chronometer&rdquo and donated the first model to the &ldquoHollandsch Instituut van Wetenschappen, Letterkunde en Schoone Kunsten&rdquo in Amsterdam.

Unfortunately, poor Winkel failed to adequately protect his idea and in only two years, Johann Nepomuk Mälzel had successfully patented his own version of the device under the name of &ldquoMälzel Metronome&rdquo which featured a scale. This forever cast a shadow over Winkel and to this day people still miscredit Mälzel with being the inventor of the device.

William Austin Burt was the original inventor, maker and patentee of the very first typewriter in America as well as the first solar compass that was workable as a surveying instrument for boats (the equatorial sextant). His typewriter was far ahead of its own time unfortunately and it was actually his great grandson who built the most recognized version of the machine (though even his version struck ahead of its own era and saw very little success in his lifetime).

William Austin Burt&rsquos equatorial sextant was adopted by the General Land Office as a standard instrument for all major boundary lines (particularly in regions of magnetic disturbance). The device&rsquos popularity steadily grew however, congress refused to renew his patent when it expired in 1850 and he apparently never even received the $300 for his right in the invention.


Potential contributions of social psychology

There is plenty of scope for social psychology to play a role in Malawi.

The dynamics influencing adopter decisions of successful programmes needs to be understood to ensure effective intervention and message strategies 27 , 28 . Networks of influence exist to define the socially accepted and preferred behaviours. Identification of such networks and influence processes would therefore be essential and social psychology can play a key role 29 .

Bennet & Murphy say there is a need for more process evaluation and phased or 𠇎pisodic” research in order to understand “how” health education messages impact on the target population. There has been too much emphasis on intervention outcome effects (such as behaviour change) with “the assumption that these have resulted directly from the intended intervention. Whilst such outcomes have obvious utility (p.128), they occur without a clear understanding of how the message is received, interpreted and responded to by the target population 30 . This emphasises a “top down” view of behaviour change, which deprives us of understanding the process. There is therefore need for an understanding of how

𠇌ultural or sub-cultural processes influence the impact of any intervention, and [modify] initiatives accordingly. Such research may also prove a rich testing ground for psychological theory, and may be achieved through the use of both qualitative and quantitative research methods” (p.128) 30 .

Given the high HIV prevalence in Malawi, it would be worth further exploring the extent to which social control in personal relationships plays a role in shaping health behaviour 31 . The interplay between social support and social control in defining health outcome is beginning to receive more attention, and a study incorporating these dynamics would shed much light on the influence of health related behaviours.

Application of critical psychology theory to health related issues also warrant further investigation. For example, Harré & van Langenhove expand on “positioning theory” which refers to the analysis of people's interaction in discourse with one another and their relative “positionings” through speech-acts in relation to the story line 32 . Of interest would be to explore how such positionings can advance health-related behaviours. What social dynamics operate to position a person into such a place where they are more likely to use a condom during sex for example? What discursive rules exist to allow for the actions that are conducive to health-related behaviours? Since episodes contain thoughts, intentions, plans etc of the individuals involved, they also shape what participants say and do 32 . There is therefore a need to understand how new episodes or “positions” are negotiated within the idiosyncrasies of the sample under investigation. The objective would then be to align such repositionings with behaviours that are conducive to optimising health from a health education perspective. Social psychology has much scope contribute to health and behaviour in Malawi as reflected in the truth of these words from Desjarlais et al that behaviour “is so rooted in social contexts, so inflected by social differences, and so at the mercy of social resources that behaviours must be thought of as primarily social. They are subject to individual variations at the margins only” (p.229) 33 .


Bad Predictions About Great Inventions

In 1899, Charles Howard Duell, the Commissioner of Patents, was quoted as saying, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." And of course, we now know that to be so far from the truth. However, it was only an urban legend that Duell ever made that bad prediction.

In fact, Duell stated that in his opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the 20th century would witness. A middle-aged Duell even wished that he could live his life over again to see the wonders which were to come.

Explore some of the worst predictions regarding some of the greatest inventions.


1. Archimedes (BC 287-212)

The Greek mathematician and physicist was undeniably one of the greatest inventors in history. While not much of his life and work is known, Archimedes’ contribution to science can never be questioned. Modern-day technology owes much to Archimedes for inventing the lever, the pulley, the cog, and the catapult. And who can forget the famous Archimedes screw. Fluid mechanics perhaps would have been a non-starter without his Eureka moment.


A (Straight, Male) History of Sex Dolls

Since ancient times, men have been getting it on with synthetic women. Is this just fancy masturbation, or something more troubling?

The story of Pygmalion goes like this: A sculptor carves a statue in the shape of a beautiful woman. It’s so beautiful that he falls in love with her, prays that she could become real, has his wish granted, and lives happily ever after. The tale has been reimagined countless times since its initial publication as part of Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses in 8 A.D. Pinocchio, Frankenstein, My Fair Lady, and 90s makeover movie She’s All That all have their origins in that myth.

But Pygmalion’s true modern heir might be Davecat, a man who lives in southeastern Michigan with three high-end sex dolls. His first purchase, which he named Sidore Kuroneko, he considers his wife the other two—named Elena and Muriel—are just intimate friends. Though he didn’t sculpt them, they are his creations. He designed their bodies before they were manufactured and their personalities after they arrived. “There was never a moment when [Sidore]—or any doll, for that matter—was merely an object to me,” he told me when we spoke last year.

Though Davecat may be one of the most visible modern sex doll owners—with an active blog and appearances in articles, documentaries, and TV spots—he’s part of a community called iDollators. These owners of high-end, anatomically correct dolls use them for sex, love, art, and companionship.

If Pygmalion lived in today’s world, none of this would be too foreign to him. In Ovid’s original story, there is some implication that the sculptor was not only in love with the statue but that he had sex with it before it came to life, according to The Erotic Doll, a book by Dr. Marquard Smith, the head of doctoral studies and the research leader at the Royal College of Art’s School of Humanities. Other tales of statue-love can be found throughout classical antiquity. For example, the Greek rhetorician Athenaeus wrote of a man who had a physical love affair with a statue of Cupid. In a somewhat more recent example, a gardener was reportedly found attempting to get it on with a replica of the Venus de Milo in 1877.

Throughout history, men without access to beautiful statues—but with an inclination to make love to women-shaped things—have made do in various ways. Sailors often used cloth to fashion fornicatory dolls known as dame de voyage in French, or dama de viaje in Spanish. In modern-day Japan, sex dolls are sometimes known as “Dutch wives”—a reference to the hand-sewn leather masturbation puppets made by the 17th-century Dutch sailors who traded with the Japanese.

Though sailors’ dolls were just generic substitutes for the female form—any female form—there are some instances of men creating dolls as stand-ins for specific women. In 1916, after the Austro-Hungarian artist Oskar Kokoschka was jilted by his lover, the pianist and composer Alma Mahler, he wrote that he had “lost all desire to go through the ordeal of love again.” (This is a refrain that doll owners have repeated through the ages.) He still desired Mahler, though, so much so that he provided her dressmaker with incredibly detailed instructions for a life-sized replica of Mahler, specifying not only her appearance but everything down to how her skin should feel. Historians differ on what happened after Kokoschka received the doll. One thing is for sure—it was extremely furry, covered in “skin” more reminiscent of a plush stuffed animal than a human woman. One account says he was “enraptured” by it all the same others say he was disappointed. He made several drawings of it, and, according to some reports, eventually destroyed it at a party, either burning it or burying it in his garden.

But the most public prelude to the modern sex doll was the mannequin-based art created by Surrealists like Man Ray and Salvador Dalí. A work called “Mannequin Street,” featured at the Exposition International du Surréalisme at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in 1938, included 16 mannequins outfitted by different artists, while Dalí’s “Rainy Taxi” centered on a female mannequin whose half-undressed body was crawling with live snails. Man Ray once claimed that the Surrealists not only infused these works with eroticism but personally “violated” their mannequins.

A persistent urban legend holds that Adolf Hitler charged one of his SS commanders to design sex dolls for German soldiers during World War II, to prevent them from slaking their lust with non-Aryan women. Whether or not this is true, the commercial sex doll does find its origins in Germany. The Bild Lilli doll—invented in the 1950s and modeled on a sexy, outspoken comic-strip character called Lilli—was an 11.5 inch plastic model, not a penetrable sex doll. In his book The Sex Doll: A History, Anthony Ferguson calls the Bild Lilli “a pornographic caricature.” Although it was marketed to adult men, the doll is widely cited as the inspiration for Barbie, so, you know, take that and run with it.

Custom-designed heads are mounted on a display at the RealDolls showroom in San Marcos, California. (AP)

In the United States, sex dolls were first advertised in porn magazines around 1968, when it became legal to sell sexual devices through the mail. By the 1980s, they could be found in most sex shops—though they were the inflatable kind, more suited to be gag gifts at a frat party than to actually withstand sex with a person. “Most of the attention and craftsmanship was focused on the penetration areas, the mouth, vagina and the anus,” Ferguson writes, but “the inflatable can only support a certain amount of weight or repeat usage before the seams in the material deteriorate.”

The realism and utility of sex dolls took a giant leap forward in the late 90s, when artist Matt McMullen started working on a lifelike silicone female mannequin and documenting its progress on his website. Before long, he began getting emails asking if it was … anatomically correct. At the time, it wasn’t. But the demand was there, and so McMullen provided the supply. Hence, the eerily lifelike RealDoll was born. After shock jock Howard Stern got hold of one and seemingly had sex with it on his radio show, McMullen’s company grew quickly, and he now sells anywhere from 200 to 300 high-end customizable sex dolls per year.

Most of McMullen’s dolls are female he makes a small number of male ones, but there are fewer options for customizing them, and they account for just 10 percent of his sales. “As an artist, I was always drawn to the female form, so that’s what my subject matter was,” McMullen says. “The female form was my muse.” He insists that actual women have nothing to fear from his dolls. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Do I think the dolls will replace women or threaten to replace women? Absolutely not.”

Two female RealDolls wait to be shipped as an employee puts the finishing touches on a male doll. The company’s founder, Matt McMullen, says female dolls account for 90 percent of his sales. (AP)

Throughout history—from Pygmalion and his marble bride to Oskar Kokoschka and his fuzzy companion—the creators and users of sex dolls have been overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, straight men. “In the content analysis I did of magazines and books, I don’t think any of [the examples] involved women,” says Cynthia Ann Moya, vice-president of the erotica database Alta-Glamour.com Book Gallery, who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco on artificial vaginas and sex dolls from the late 19th century through the 1980s. “This is not to say that it never happened. But the mythologies that people tell each other about these sex dolls all involved men.”

The twin questions this raises are: “Why aren’t more women using sex dolls?” and “Why are so many men drawn to them?”

Some answers are purely practical. For instance, only 25 percent of women can consistently orgasm from vaginal sex alone, which makes a doll far from the most efficient sex toy. Also, when it comes to RealDolls and their ilk, everyone I spoke with told me how heavy they are. (Female RealDolls weigh between 75 and 115 pounds.) Some mentioned it sheepishly, others matter-of-factly, but there was a general consensus that the dolls are difficult for many women to move around.

There’s also plenty of speculation about the difference between men and women’s masturbation styles. In his 1936 book Studies in the Psychology of Sex, the English psychologist Henry Havelock Ellis wrote that men are more visual, while women are more imaginative and rely more on their sense of touch. Both Smith and McMullen reiterated this conventional wisdom, and, allowing for individual differences, it seems like a plausible enough explanation for why most dolls, like most porn, are made with men’s interests in mind. Most women care mainly about the actual tactile sensation, while men like things to look real, the thinking goes. When a man is getting it on with a doll, especially a modern one with its silicone skin and almost-human expression, it’s easier for him to pretend it wants him back.

There are some women who buy female dolls. But McMullen says many of them purchase the dolls with a male partner—or with the intention of dressing them up and enjoying them as fashion dolls. “A lot of women like the dolls because they’re like life-size Barbies,” he says.

Barbara, a 61-year-old small business owner from California, is one of the few women involved in the iDollator community. She says she first heard about the dolls through a news story about people who were using them to cheat their way into carpool lanes. Then she saw Davecat on the TLC show My Strange Addiction, got in touch, and found him “extremely welcoming.” The community as a whole embraces female members, despite being mostly male, she says.

Barbara and her husband own four dolls, which she says they use only for photography, though she has “not the slightest objection to people who use them for their ‘intended purpose.’”

“Feminists seem to be totally horrified by these dolls, which puzzles me, as I am a feminist,” Barbara told me in an email. “They say that the dolls ‘objectify’ women because they are so beautiful that real women cannot hope to compete with them on the basis of looks.”

Most feminists, however, probably aren’t objecting because they’re worried about entering into a beauty competition with the dolls. Complaints about objectification centered on men who treat women as objects—disregarding their agency or feelings and viewing them as mere tools to be used for selfish ends. Sex dolls are objects they’re also, critically, objects you can own. And these objects you can own are shaped, almost all of the time, like women.

A worker assembles sex dolls at a factory in China. (Reuters)

In her Ph.D. dissertation, Moya questions why there is something uniquely perverse about owning a sex doll. As she puts it, “A better spatula does not inspire lengthy monologues about human alienation and the reifying effects of technological mechanization on our lifestyles.” Sexuality is an appetite, not unlike hunger, but we treat the devices used to satisfy that appetite differently. If the doll owners aren’t hurting anyone, why should we condemn something that is basically just fancy masturbation?

But sex dolls do retain something of an ick-factor, even as vibrators and other sex toys have become more mainstream. That’s because the dolls are tied up with questions about gender and power in a way that spatulas (and even vibrators) are not.

According to Smith, any sort of non-reproductive sexual behavior has historically been seen as perverse. These days, though, many people are okay with sex that isn’t reproductive. We’re less okay with emotional attachments that aren’t socially productive, and so it seems the distaste is strongest for the small subset of men who consider themselves to be in romantic relationships with their dolls, rather than just using them for sex. We expect a relationship to involve mutual consent, a kind of equality and reciprocity that is impossible with a doll. By its very nature, the relationship is one-sided—a teeter-totter with only one person sitting on it.

But realistic dolls often do inspire real affection, and even devotion. Some men assign personalities and preferences to the dolls they design (Davecat’s dolls even have Twitter accounts), and they talk about them as one would a live partner. “There is genuine empathy here,” Smith writes, “what the Germans call Einfühlung, an entering into the feelings of an other.”*

A love for one’s own creation, though, is also, in a way, self-love, or narcissism. “This is why so much of it has to do with masturbation,” Smith says. “These things are not unconnected.”

Narcissistic or not, that attachment can become isolating. Smith points out that, especially in the age of technology, intimate relationships with objects aren’t so uncommon. “Think about the way you use your iPhone,” he says. “You hold it, and you stroke it, and you scroll. You’re holding it to your ear as we speak. It’s kind of a part of you. It’s an extension of you.” But things are different when the object is human-shaped and the relationship is sexual. Owning a doll can have “social and psychological consequences for men who want to develop these intimate and erotic relationships with an inanimate human form. I don’t want to pathologize anyone, but I think there’s a danger around the way that processes like that objectify men’s relationships with themselves in a way that restricts an authentic emotional intelligence.”

Sarah Valverde, a researcher and mental health therapist, did her masters thesis in psychology on the demographics and psychological characteristics of sex doll owners. She says that many of the men she surveyed for her research felt shame or embarrassment about owning sex dolls. But contrary to popular stereotypes, they were just as satisfied with their lives, on average, as the general population, and didn’t suffer higher-than-normal rates of depression or other mental illness. Owning a sex doll “is certainly a deviant sexual behavior from our norm,” she says. “But unless it’s all-consuming and it impacts other areas of life, we really can’t define it as a disorder.”

A sex doll named Koyuki on display at the showroom of Orient Industry, a high-end manufacturer based in Tokyo (Reuters)

There are many understandable, even sympathetic, reasons for owning sex dolls. Some doll owners are just having fun. Some suffer from social anxiety or even disabilities that might make human relationships difficult. Some people just want to take arty photographs. The whole phenomenon is surprisingly hard to nail down.

“You want a quote, don’t you?” Smith asks at the end of our wide-ranging conversation, when I ask if he can summarize all we’ve discussed. “I’ll try and make one up for you. It would have something to do with narcissism, something to do with fantasy, something to do with creativity, something to do with persons and things. It has to do with struggles over questions of intimacy. I think that’s really quite key.”

These questions of intimacy inevitably come back to the relationship between the genders. We may not be able to extrapolate much from one person’s motives for buying a sex doll. But the phenomenon as a whole is like a funhouse mirror—it may show a skewed reflection of male-female relationships, but it emphasizes some aspects we’d rather not see. These woman-shaped things, which can be whatever their owners want them to be, represent the far end of a spectrum of social attitudes. Plenty of men would like real women to be a little more like dolls.

When I spoke to Davecat last year, he was offended by this idea. “Ninety-eight percent of the iDollators and technosexuals I know treat their Dolls like goddesses,” he insisted. “A lot of men are lonely because they’re misogynist pricks, true, but a lot of other men are lonely because they don’t meet women’s expectations.” But then he went on: “Dolls don’t possess any of the unpleasant qualities that organic, flesh and blood humans have. A synthetic will never lie to you, cheat on you, criticize you, or be otherwise disagreeable.”

This is the doll-lover’s frequent lament: Women are unpredictable and dolls are steadfast women will leave you and dolls are loyal women demand things and dolls accept you for who you are. Women are human and dolls are not.

The inventor of the Fleshlight, a popular masturbation toy for men, also submitted a patent in 1995 for a “female functioning mannequin.” (Within the mannequin’s “cavity,” as the patent puts it, would have been a cartridge full of “oily elastomer.”) According to Smith’s book, the inventor cited “as the reasons for its invention the fact that women are cruel, venal, superficial, that they humiliate and break the hearts of men and that dolls on the contrary are reliable, compliant, companionable, and loving.”

Valverde’s research (along with plenty of anecdotal evidence) suggests that the dolls do provide comfort, and a sexual outlet, for some men who can’t find or don’t want a human romantic relationship. But in the grand history of time, women and gay men have surely felt rejected and lonely—straight men don’t have a monopoly on those feelings.

Valverde has her own explanation for why many men use the “women are cruel” argument to explain their attraction to dolls. “Margaret Atwood’s quote: ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’ I think that’s true.”

Owning a sex doll is not a violent act. But as these creations come to look more and more realistic, their lifeless, prone silicone bodies are reminders of unequal gender power dynamics that play out in the real world. And as human women become more empowered, sex dolls offer a way for men to retreat into relationships where they are still in control. A doll is a woman-shaped thing that may bring a man comfort, may inspire devotion in him, and may drive away his loneliness. It will never challenge him, and it will certainly never do anything to make him feel ridiculous.

* This post originally quoted the German word for empathy as "Einfurlung." We regret the error.


Henry Ford 1863-1947

Henry Ford did not invent the automobile as many people mistakenly assume. But he did improve the assembly line for automobile manufacturing, received a patent for a transmission mechanism, and popularized the gas-powered car with the Model-T.


Early men and women were equal, say scientists

The authors of the study argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social network (probably not including gardening). Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Features

The authors of the study argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social network (probably not including gardening). Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Features

Last modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 21.25 GMT

Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.

A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.

Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

Dyble says the latest findings suggest that equality between the sexes may have been a survival advantage and played an important role in shaping human society and evolution. “Sexual equality is one of a important suite of changes to social organisation, including things like pair-bonding, our big, social brains, and language, that distinguishes humans,” he said. “It’s an important one that hasn’t really been highlighted before.”

The study, published in the journal Science, set out to investigate the apparent paradox that while people in hunter-gatherer societies show strong preferences for living with family members, in practice the groups they live in tend to comprise few closely related individuals.

The scientists collected genealogical data from two hunter-gatherer populations, one in the Congo and one in the Philippines, including kinship relations, movement between camps and residence patterns, through hundreds of interviews. In both cases, people tend to live in groups of around 20, moving roughly every 10 days and subsisting on hunted game, fish and gathered fruit, vegetables and honey.

The scientists constructed a computer model to simulate the process of camp assortment, based on the assumption that people would chose to populate an empty camp with their close kin: siblings, parents and children.

When only one sex had influence over the process, as is typically the case in male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies, tight hubs of related individuals emerged. However, the average number of related individuals is predicted to be much lower when men and women have an equal influence – closely matching what was seen in the populations that were studied.

“When only men have influence over who they are living with, the core of any community is a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery,” said Dyble. “If men and women decide, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.”

The authors argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social networks and closer cooperation between unrelated individuals. “It gives you a far more expansive social network with a wider choice of mates, so inbreeding would be less of an issue,” said Dyble. “And you come into contact with more people and you can share innovations, which is something that humans do par excellence.”

Dr Tamas David-Barrett, a behavioural scientist at the University of Oxford, agreed: “This is a very neat result,” he said. “If you’re able to track your kin further away, you’d be able to have a much broader network. All you’d need to do is get together every now and then for some kind of feast.”

The study suggests that it was only with the dawn of agriculture, when people were able to accumulate resources for the first time, that an imbalance emerged. “Men can start to have several wives and they can have more children than women,” said Dyble. “It pays more for men to start accumulating resources and becomes favourable to form alliances with male kin.”

Dyble said that egalitarianism may even have been one of the important factors that distinguished our ancestors from our primate cousins. “Chimpanzees live in quite aggressive, male-dominated societies with clear hierarchies,” he said. “As a result, they just don’t see enough adults in their lifetime for technologies to be sustained.”

The findings appear to be supported by qualitative observations of the hunter-gatherer groups in the study. In the Philippines population, women are involved in hunting and honey collecting and while there is still a division of labour, overall men and women contribute a similar number of calories to the camp. In both groups, monogamy is the norm and men are active in childcare.

Andrea Migliano, of University College London and the paper’s senior author, said: “Sex equality suggests a scenario where unique human traits, such as cooperation with unrelated individuals, could have emerged in our evolutionary past.”


10 Under-Appreciated Or Forgotten Inventors

Throughout the years, both men and women have contributed to the steady growth and evolution of mankind in their own special ways some sought to work in the realm of mathematics whilst others opted towards the development of heavy machinery or musical devices. All of the many contributions brought forth by innovative minds around the world have in some way made things easier or transformed previously perceived &ldquoimpossibilities&rdquo into realities. Unfortunately, many of the world&rsquos most influential inventors received little to no recognition throughout their lives despite the seemingly obvious importance of their ideas. Here are the top ten inventors who received less recognition than they deserved for their efforts.

The first person to ever formerly invent a form of glue was Peter Cooper (he patented a kind of fish glue). Chances are you&rsquove never heard of him or any of the people who patented other forms of glue. Of course, you&rsquove definitely never heard of glue&rsquos original inventors as they resided in Roman and/or Greek civilizations centuries ago. Everyone uses glue now but nobody ever really remembers glue makers for their achievements in the creation of sticky stuff.

Ever wonder who invented something as simple as play-doh? Of course you have since the inventors are barely remembered to this day. Much like a large number of other inventions, &ldquoplay-doh&rdquo was created by accident. It was originally developed to be used as wallpaper cleaner before its potential as modeling clay for kids was noticed. When it first began being sold (in 1956), it came in a single color that was close to white (but not quite). The very next year, &ldquoplay-doh&rdquo was released in different colors and kids everywhere rejoiced (though not all at once).

If you are in doubt of this simple invention&rsquos implications in our society then you surely are omitting the fact that just about every child in the world knows what the fuzzy pumper barber shop version of this toy looks like.

Although something as simple as a zipper may hardly seem like an invention to most people nowadays as we are all quite accustomed to them, they were not around since the dawn of time. The zipper in its modern form was actually invented by Gideon Sundback in 1917 and was originally named the &ldquocontinuous clothing closure&rdquo (which just rolls right off the tongue).

Initially, it was not adopted into the clothing industry as people felt it looked far too uncouth to be effectively used as a part of any garment. Instead, it slowly made its way into the world by being used in the creation of boots and tobacco pouches. Later on, it received its catchy name from the marketing group at B.F. Goodrich and it has been used in most forms of clothing ever since. No thanks were ever really given to the creator of the modern design though so its importance must have been overlooked.

Lyman was known to be a very dedicated inventor he worked hard to come up with a truly useful idea that people now use every day, the can opener. Although it was not his only invention, it is known to have been his most famous one. In 1870, Lyman successfully created the world&rsquos first rotating wheel can opener. Prior to Lyman&rsquos invention, the only can openers that were available were basically just variations of a knife. With Lyman&rsquos novel device, the procedure of opening a can was made much simpler. Unfortunately, Lyman&rsquos invention (though ingenious) was not utilized by many due to the fact that the can needed to be pierced before you could use it. In 1891, Lyman died with very little recognition for his achievement besides the patents he had been awarded for it.

Henry Blair&rsquos misfortune as an inventor came primarily due to his race. In his patent records, Henry Blair is listed as a &ldquocolored man&rdquo (the only description of this kind in early patent records) and all of his patents were signed only with an &ldquox&rdquo as he was illiterate. His most notable creation was an automatic cotton planter that tilled the ground and dispensed seeds through a special wheel-powered device.

Blair was presumably a slave however, the law for the issuing of patents allowed both slaves and free men to obtain patents at the time. In 1858, this law was changed to exclude slaves from obtaining patents. It was not changed back until 1871. Unfortunately, Blair died in 1860, eleven years too early to have benefitted from this change.

Walter Hunt was an American mechanic born in New York in 1796. Throughout his life he worked as an inventor and he managed to create a variety of different devices. The lockstitch sewing machine, safety pin, a forerunner of the Winchester repeating rifle, a successful flax spinner, knife sharpener, streetcar bell, hard-coal-burning stove, artificial stone, street sweeping machinery, the velocipede, and the ice plough are his most notable creations.

Many of his creations have served as indispensable additions and improvements to basic activities and devices in modern times. This is especially true for things like the simple safety pin and the complicated sewing machine. Unfortunately, none of his extremely useful inventions managed to win him an award throughout his life (nor afterwards).

Something as common as simple Velcro was not always used for clothing purposes nor was it always taken seriously. In fact, the idea and its creator were both scoffed at initially. De Mestral&rsquos invention was refused by many people due to the fact that it was not &ldquoaesthetically pleasing&rdquo (its materials were originally wool and scraps of leather) and it was known to wear out quickly.

De Mestral struggled to get his invention used until his patent expired in 1978. He died in Commugny Switzerland without any awards for his efforts however, the municipality named an avenue after him posthumously upon recognizing his accomplishment afterwards. He was also later inducted into the Inventor&rsquos Hall of Fame in 1999 for his invention.

Philo Farnsworth was an inventor from the U.S. who crafted a couple of extremely important devices during his life (1906 &ndash 1971). He is known now as the first person to create an electronic television device which he called the image &ldquodissector&rdquo. He also helped to bring forth the idea of nuclear energy through fusion with the &ldquoFarnsworth-Hirsch fusor,&rdquo a device that could produce electrons in abundance and is known to be the main source for the approach taken to modern fusion design. He held 165 patents mostly in the fields of radio and television.

He was presented an Eagle Scout award when people noticed that he had earned it too bad this didn&rsquot happen until 2006 (over thirty years after his death). The award was given to his wife who then died four months later.

Winkel was living in Amsterdam in 1814 when he first discovered that a pendulum that was correctly weighted on either of its pivot&rsquos sides could steadily keep time, even very slow tempos. He called his invention the &ldquomusical chronometer&rdquo and donated the first model to the &ldquoHollandsch Instituut van Wetenschappen, Letterkunde en Schoone Kunsten&rdquo in Amsterdam.

Unfortunately, poor Winkel failed to adequately protect his idea and in only two years, Johann Nepomuk Mälzel had successfully patented his own version of the device under the name of &ldquoMälzel Metronome&rdquo which featured a scale. This forever cast a shadow over Winkel and to this day people still miscredit Mälzel with being the inventor of the device.

William Austin Burt was the original inventor, maker and patentee of the very first typewriter in America as well as the first solar compass that was workable as a surveying instrument for boats (the equatorial sextant). His typewriter was far ahead of its own time unfortunately and it was actually his great grandson who built the most recognized version of the machine (though even his version struck ahead of its own era and saw very little success in his lifetime).

William Austin Burt&rsquos equatorial sextant was adopted by the General Land Office as a standard instrument for all major boundary lines (particularly in regions of magnetic disturbance). The device&rsquos popularity steadily grew however, congress refused to renew his patent when it expired in 1850 and he apparently never even received the $300 for his right in the invention.


5 Galileo Galilee

Galileo Galilee or "Gal-Gal," as he is more commonly known, was an Italian astronomer, physicist and mathematician. If you asked the average high schooler what Galileo's lasting contribution to science was, they would most likely reply "the telescope" before going off to listen to their Rhianna records and play with their Digimon, (Is that what high schoolers do these days? We don't even know anymore). Well, put down that Digital Monster, high schooler, because we are about to blow your mind: Gal-Gal did not invent the telescope. Also, Rhianna sucks.

Who Actually Invented It?
While everyone was probably looking up at the stars, no one was doing it quite as hard as Dutchman Hans Lippershey. In 1608, Lippershey completed the first ever telescope and attempted to receive a patent for it, but was denied for no discernible reason.


Lippershey's telescope (internet re-creation)

A few countries over, when Galileo heard about Lippershey's work, he quickly built his own telescope in 1609. A telescope, it should be noted, that could see just a little bit further than Lippershey's.

Necessary? Not particularly. Emasculating? Oh, you betcha. While Galileo never registered a patent for his telescope, the fact remains that his name is synonymous with the telescope, while Lippershey was most likely absent from your old textbooks.

In a final shot to show just how fairly each scientist was rewarded, four moons surrounding Jupiter are named after Galileo, and do you know what carries Lippershey's name? A crater. A fucking crater on Earth's moon will forever be known as Lippershey's Crater. The Moon's Ass Crack.

Related: 5 Famous Bible Stories With Logical Scientific Explanations


A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking

The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in "authority" to have sound knowledge and insight. He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief.

He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as "Socratic Questioning" and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. In his mode of questioning, Socrates highlighted the need in thinking for clarity and logical consistency.

Socrates set the agenda for the tradition of critical thinking, namely, to reflectively question common beliefs and explanations, carefully distinguishing those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which — however appealing they may be to our native egocentrism, however much they serve our vested interests, however comfortable or comforting they may be — lack adequate evidence or rational foundation to warrant our belief.

Socrates’ practice was followed by the critical thinking of Plato (who recorded Socrates’ thought), Aristotle, and the Greek skeptics, all of whom emphasized that things are often very different from what they appear to be and that only the trained mind is prepared to see through the way things look to us on the surface (delusive appearances) to the way they really are beneath the surface (the deeper realities of life). From this ancient Greek tradition emerged the need, for anyone who aspired to understand the deeper realities, to think systematically, to trace implications broadly and deeply, for only thinking that is comprehensive, well-reasoned, and responsive to objections can take us beyond the surface.

In the Middle Ages, the tradition of systematic critical thinking was embodied in the writings and teachings of such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas (Sumna Theologica) who to ensure his thinking met the test of critical thought, always systematically stated, considered, and answered all criticisms of his ideas as a necessary stage in developing them. Aquinas heightened our awareness not only of the potential power of reasoning but also of the need for reasoning to be systematically cultivated and "cross-examined." Of course, Aquinas’ thinking also illustrates that those who think critically do not always reject established beliefs, only those beliefs that lack reasonable foundations.

In the Renaissance (15th and 16th Centuries), a flood of scholars in Europe began to think critically about religion, art, society, human nature, law, and freedom. They proceeded with the assumption that most of the domains of human life were in need of searching analysis and critique. Among these scholars were Colet, Erasmus, and Moore in England. They followed up on the insight of the ancients.

Francis Bacon, in England, was explicitly concerned with the way we misuse our minds in seeking knowledge. He recognized explicitly that the mind cannot safely be left to its natural tendencies. In his book The Advancement of Learning, he argued for the importance of studying the world empirically. He laid the foundation for modern science with his emphasis on the information-gathering processes. He also called attention to the fact that most people, if left to their own devices, develop bad habits of thought (which he called "idols") that lead them to believe what is false or misleading. He called attention to "Idols of the tribe" (the ways our mind naturally tends to trick itself), "Idols of the market-place" (the ways we misuse words), "Idols of the theater" (our tendency to become trapped in conventional systems of thought), and "Idols of the schools" (the problems in thinking when based on blind rules and poor instruction). His book could be considered one of the earliest texts in critical thinking, for his agenda was very much the traditional agenda of critical thinking.

Some fifty years later in France, Descartes wrote what might be called the second text in critical thinking, Rules For the Direction of the Mind. In it, Descartes argued for the need for a special systematic disciplining of the mind to guide it in thinking. He articulated and defended the need in thinking for clarity and precision. He developed a method of critical thought based on the principle of systematic doubt. He emphasized the need to base thinking on well-thought through foundational assumptions. Every part of thinking, he argued, should be questioned, doubted, and tested.

In the same time period, Sir Thomas Moore developed a model of a new social order, Utopia, in which every domain of the present world was subject to critique. His implicit thesis was that established social systems are in need of radical analysis and critique. The critical thinking of these Renaissance and post-Renaissance scholars opened the way for the emergence of science and for the development of democracy, human rights, and freedom for thought.

In the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli’s The Prince critically assessed the politics of the day, and laid the foundation for modern critical political thought. He refused to assume that government functioned as those in power said it did. Rather, he critically analyzed how it did function and laid the foundation for political thinking that exposes both, on the one hand, the real agendas of politicians and, on the other hand, the many contradictions and inconsistencies of the hard, cruel, world of the politics of his day

Hobbes and Locke (in 16th and 17th Century England) displayed the same confidence in the critical mind of the thinker that we find in Machiavelli. Neither accepted the traditional picture of things dominant in the thinking of their day. Neither accepted as necessarily rational that which was considered "normal" in their culture. Both looked to the critical mind to open up new vistas of learning. Hobbes adopted a naturalistic view of the world in which everything was to be explained by evidence and reasoning. Locke defended a common sense analysis of everyday life and thought. He laid the theoretical foundation for critical thinking about basic human rights and the responsibilities of all governments to submit to the reasoned criticism of thoughtful citizens.

It was in this spirit of intellectual freedom and critical thought that people such as Robert Boyle (in the 17th Century) and Sir Isaac Newton (in the 17th and 18th Century) did their work. In his Sceptical Chymist, Boyle severely criticized the chemical theory that had preceded him. Newton, in turn, developed a far-reaching framework of thought which roundly criticized the traditionally accepted world view. He extended the critical thought of such minds as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. After Boyle and Newton, it was recognized by those who reflected seriously on the natural world that egocentric views of world must be abandoned in favor of views based entirely on carefully gathered evidence and sound reasoning.

Another significant contribution to critical thinking was made by the thinkers of the French Enlightenment: Bayle, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Diderot. They all began with the premise that the human mind, when disciplined by reason, is better able to figure out the nature of the social and political world. What is more, for these thinkers, reason must turn inward upon itself, in order to determine weaknesses and strengths of thought. They valued disciplined intellectual exchange, in which all views had to be submitted to serious analysis and critique. They believed that all authority must submit in one way or another to the scrutiny of reasonable critical questioning.

Eighteenth Century thinkers extended our conception of critical thought even further, developing our sense of the power of critical thought and of its tools. Applied to the problem of economics, it produced Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. In the same year, applied to the traditional concept of loyalty to the king, it produced the Declaration of Independence. Applied to reason itself, it produced Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

In the 19th Century, critical thought was extended even further into the domain of human social life by Comte and Spencer. Applied to the problems of capitalism, it produced the searching social and economic critique of Karl Marx. Applied to the history of human culture and the basis of biological life, it led to Darwin’s Descent of Man. Applied to the unconscious mind, it is reflected in the works of Sigmund Freud. Applied to cultures, it led to the establishment of the field of Anthropological studies. Applied to language, it led to the field of Linguistics and to many deep probings of the functions of symbols and language in human life.

In the 20th Century, our understanding of the power and nature of critical thinking has emerged in increasingly more explicit formulations. In 1906, William Graham Sumner published a land-breaking study of the foundations of sociology and anthropology, Folkways, in which he documented the tendency of the human mind to think sociocentrically and the parallel tendency for schools to serve the (uncritical) function of social indoctrination :

"Schools make persons all on one pattern, orthodoxy. School education, unless it is regulated by the best knowledge and good sense, will produce men and women who are all of one pattern, as if turned in a lathe. An orthodoxy is produced in regard to all the great doctrines of life. It consists of the most worn and commonplace opinions which are common in the masses. The popular opinions always contain broad fallacies, half-truths, and glib generalizations (p. 630).

At the same time, Sumner recognized the deep need for critical thinking in life and in education:

"Criticism is the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances. Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty. A teacher of any subject who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded. They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens” (pp. 632, 633).

John Dewey agreed. From his work, we have increased our sense of the pragmatic basis of human thought (its instrumental nature), and especially its grounding in actual human purposes, goals, and objectives. From the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein we have increased our awareness not only of the importance of concepts in human thought, but also of the need to analyze concepts and assess their power and limitations. From the work of Piaget, we have increased our awareness of the egocentric and sociocentric tendencies of human thought and of the special need to develop critical thought which is able to reason within multiple standpoints, and to be raised to the level of "conscious realization." From the massive contribution of all the "hard" sciences, we have learned the power of information and the importance of gathering information with great care and precision, and with sensitivity to its potential inaccuracy, distortion, or misuse. From the contribution of depth-psychology, we have learned how easily the human mind is self-deceived, how easily it unconsciously constructs illusions and delusions, how easily it rationalizes and stereotypes, projects and scapegoats.

To sum up, the tools and resources of the critical thinker have been vastly increased in virtue of the history of critical thought. Hundreds of thinkers have contributed to its development. Each major discipline has made some contribution to critical thought. Yet for most educational purposes, it is the summing up of base-line common denominators for critical thinking that is most important. Let us consider now that summation.

The Common Denominators of Critical Thinking Are the Most Important By-products of the History of Critical Thinking

We now recognize that critical thinking, by its very nature, requires, for example, the systematic monitoring of thought that thinking, to be critical, must not be accepted at face value but must be analyzed and assessed for its clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logicalness. We now recognize that critical thinking, by its very nature, requires, for example, the recognition that all reasoning occurs within points of view and frames of reference that all reasoning proceeds from some goals and objectives, has an informational base that all data when used in reasoning must be interpreted, that interpretation involves concepts that concepts entail assumptions, and that all basic inferences in thought have implications. We now recognize that each of these dimensions of thinking need to be monitored and that problems of thinking can occur in any of them.

The result of the collective contribution of the history of critical thought is that the basic questions of Socrates can now be much more powerfully and focally framed and used. In every domain of human thought, and within every use of reasoning within any domain, it is now possible to question:

  • ends and objectives,
  • the status and wording of questions,
  • the sources of information and fact,
  • the method and quality of information collection,
  • the mode of judgment and reasoning used,
  • the concepts that make that reasoning possible,
  • the assumptions that underlie concepts in use,
  • the implications that follow from their use, and
  • the point of view or frame of reference within which reasoning takes place.

In other words, questioning that focuses on these fundamentals of thought and reasoning are now baseline in critical thinking. It is beyond question that intellectual errors or mistakes can occur in any of these dimensions, and that students need to be fluent in talking about these structures and standards.

Independent of the subject studied, students need to be able to articulate thinking about thinking that reflects basic command of the intellectual dimensions of thought: "Let’s see, what is the most fundamental issue here? From what point of view should I approach this problem? Does it make sense for me to assume this? From these data may I infer this? What is implied in this graph? What is the fundamental concept here? Is this consistent with that? What makes this question complex? How could I check the accuracy of these data? If this is so, what else is implied? Is this a credible source of information? Etc." (For more information on the basic elements of thought and basic intellectual criteria and standards, see Appendices C and D).

With intellectual language such as this in the foreground, students can now be taught at least minimal critical thinking moves within any subject field. What is more, there is no reason in principle that students cannot take the basic tools of critical thought which they learn in one domain of study and extend it (with appropriate adjustments) to all the other domains and subjects which they study. For example, having questioned the wording of a problem in math, I am more likely to question the wording of a problem in the other subjects I study.

As a result of the fact that students can learn these generalizable critical thinking moves, they need not be taught history simply as a body of facts to memorize they can now be taught history as historical reasoning. Classes can be designed so that students learn to think historically and develop skills and abilities essential to historical thought. Math can be taught so that the emphasis is on mathematical reasoning. Students can learn to think geographically, economically, biologically, chemically, in courses within these disciplines. In principle, then, all students can be taught so that they learn how to bring the basic tools of disciplined reasoning into every subject they study. Unfortunately, it is apparent, given the results of this study, that we are very far from this ideal state of affairs. We now turn to the fundamental concepts and principles tested in standardized critical thinking tests.


Potential contributions of social psychology

There is plenty of scope for social psychology to play a role in Malawi.

The dynamics influencing adopter decisions of successful programmes needs to be understood to ensure effective intervention and message strategies 27 , 28 . Networks of influence exist to define the socially accepted and preferred behaviours. Identification of such networks and influence processes would therefore be essential and social psychology can play a key role 29 .

Bennet & Murphy say there is a need for more process evaluation and phased or 𠇎pisodic” research in order to understand “how” health education messages impact on the target population. There has been too much emphasis on intervention outcome effects (such as behaviour change) with “the assumption that these have resulted directly from the intended intervention. Whilst such outcomes have obvious utility (p.128), they occur without a clear understanding of how the message is received, interpreted and responded to by the target population 30 . This emphasises a “top down” view of behaviour change, which deprives us of understanding the process. There is therefore need for an understanding of how

𠇌ultural or sub-cultural processes influence the impact of any intervention, and [modify] initiatives accordingly. Such research may also prove a rich testing ground for psychological theory, and may be achieved through the use of both qualitative and quantitative research methods” (p.128) 30 .

Given the high HIV prevalence in Malawi, it would be worth further exploring the extent to which social control in personal relationships plays a role in shaping health behaviour 31 . The interplay between social support and social control in defining health outcome is beginning to receive more attention, and a study incorporating these dynamics would shed much light on the influence of health related behaviours.

Application of critical psychology theory to health related issues also warrant further investigation. For example, Harré & van Langenhove expand on “positioning theory” which refers to the analysis of people's interaction in discourse with one another and their relative “positionings” through speech-acts in relation to the story line 32 . Of interest would be to explore how such positionings can advance health-related behaviours. What social dynamics operate to position a person into such a place where they are more likely to use a condom during sex for example? What discursive rules exist to allow for the actions that are conducive to health-related behaviours? Since episodes contain thoughts, intentions, plans etc of the individuals involved, they also shape what participants say and do 32 . There is therefore a need to understand how new episodes or “positions” are negotiated within the idiosyncrasies of the sample under investigation. The objective would then be to align such repositionings with behaviours that are conducive to optimising health from a health education perspective. Social psychology has much scope contribute to health and behaviour in Malawi as reflected in the truth of these words from Desjarlais et al that behaviour “is so rooted in social contexts, so inflected by social differences, and so at the mercy of social resources that behaviours must be thought of as primarily social. They are subject to individual variations at the margins only” (p.229) 33 .


A (Straight, Male) History of Sex Dolls

Since ancient times, men have been getting it on with synthetic women. Is this just fancy masturbation, or something more troubling?

The story of Pygmalion goes like this: A sculptor carves a statue in the shape of a beautiful woman. It’s so beautiful that he falls in love with her, prays that she could become real, has his wish granted, and lives happily ever after. The tale has been reimagined countless times since its initial publication as part of Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses in 8 A.D. Pinocchio, Frankenstein, My Fair Lady, and 90s makeover movie She’s All That all have their origins in that myth.

But Pygmalion’s true modern heir might be Davecat, a man who lives in southeastern Michigan with three high-end sex dolls. His first purchase, which he named Sidore Kuroneko, he considers his wife the other two—named Elena and Muriel—are just intimate friends. Though he didn’t sculpt them, they are his creations. He designed their bodies before they were manufactured and their personalities after they arrived. “There was never a moment when [Sidore]—or any doll, for that matter—was merely an object to me,” he told me when we spoke last year.

Though Davecat may be one of the most visible modern sex doll owners—with an active blog and appearances in articles, documentaries, and TV spots—he’s part of a community called iDollators. These owners of high-end, anatomically correct dolls use them for sex, love, art, and companionship.

If Pygmalion lived in today’s world, none of this would be too foreign to him. In Ovid’s original story, there is some implication that the sculptor was not only in love with the statue but that he had sex with it before it came to life, according to The Erotic Doll, a book by Dr. Marquard Smith, the head of doctoral studies and the research leader at the Royal College of Art’s School of Humanities. Other tales of statue-love can be found throughout classical antiquity. For example, the Greek rhetorician Athenaeus wrote of a man who had a physical love affair with a statue of Cupid. In a somewhat more recent example, a gardener was reportedly found attempting to get it on with a replica of the Venus de Milo in 1877.

Throughout history, men without access to beautiful statues—but with an inclination to make love to women-shaped things—have made do in various ways. Sailors often used cloth to fashion fornicatory dolls known as dame de voyage in French, or dama de viaje in Spanish. In modern-day Japan, sex dolls are sometimes known as “Dutch wives”—a reference to the hand-sewn leather masturbation puppets made by the 17th-century Dutch sailors who traded with the Japanese.

Though sailors’ dolls were just generic substitutes for the female form—any female form—there are some instances of men creating dolls as stand-ins for specific women. In 1916, after the Austro-Hungarian artist Oskar Kokoschka was jilted by his lover, the pianist and composer Alma Mahler, he wrote that he had “lost all desire to go through the ordeal of love again.” (This is a refrain that doll owners have repeated through the ages.) He still desired Mahler, though, so much so that he provided her dressmaker with incredibly detailed instructions for a life-sized replica of Mahler, specifying not only her appearance but everything down to how her skin should feel. Historians differ on what happened after Kokoschka received the doll. One thing is for sure—it was extremely furry, covered in “skin” more reminiscent of a plush stuffed animal than a human woman. One account says he was “enraptured” by it all the same others say he was disappointed. He made several drawings of it, and, according to some reports, eventually destroyed it at a party, either burning it or burying it in his garden.

But the most public prelude to the modern sex doll was the mannequin-based art created by Surrealists like Man Ray and Salvador Dalí. A work called “Mannequin Street,” featured at the Exposition International du Surréalisme at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in 1938, included 16 mannequins outfitted by different artists, while Dalí’s “Rainy Taxi” centered on a female mannequin whose half-undressed body was crawling with live snails. Man Ray once claimed that the Surrealists not only infused these works with eroticism but personally “violated” their mannequins.

A persistent urban legend holds that Adolf Hitler charged one of his SS commanders to design sex dolls for German soldiers during World War II, to prevent them from slaking their lust with non-Aryan women. Whether or not this is true, the commercial sex doll does find its origins in Germany. The Bild Lilli doll—invented in the 1950s and modeled on a sexy, outspoken comic-strip character called Lilli—was an 11.5 inch plastic model, not a penetrable sex doll. In his book The Sex Doll: A History, Anthony Ferguson calls the Bild Lilli “a pornographic caricature.” Although it was marketed to adult men, the doll is widely cited as the inspiration for Barbie, so, you know, take that and run with it.

Custom-designed heads are mounted on a display at the RealDolls showroom in San Marcos, California. (AP)

In the United States, sex dolls were first advertised in porn magazines around 1968, when it became legal to sell sexual devices through the mail. By the 1980s, they could be found in most sex shops—though they were the inflatable kind, more suited to be gag gifts at a frat party than to actually withstand sex with a person. “Most of the attention and craftsmanship was focused on the penetration areas, the mouth, vagina and the anus,” Ferguson writes, but “the inflatable can only support a certain amount of weight or repeat usage before the seams in the material deteriorate.”

The realism and utility of sex dolls took a giant leap forward in the late 90s, when artist Matt McMullen started working on a lifelike silicone female mannequin and documenting its progress on his website. Before long, he began getting emails asking if it was … anatomically correct. At the time, it wasn’t. But the demand was there, and so McMullen provided the supply. Hence, the eerily lifelike RealDoll was born. After shock jock Howard Stern got hold of one and seemingly had sex with it on his radio show, McMullen’s company grew quickly, and he now sells anywhere from 200 to 300 high-end customizable sex dolls per year.

Most of McMullen’s dolls are female he makes a small number of male ones, but there are fewer options for customizing them, and they account for just 10 percent of his sales. “As an artist, I was always drawn to the female form, so that’s what my subject matter was,” McMullen says. “The female form was my muse.” He insists that actual women have nothing to fear from his dolls. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Do I think the dolls will replace women or threaten to replace women? Absolutely not.”

Two female RealDolls wait to be shipped as an employee puts the finishing touches on a male doll. The company’s founder, Matt McMullen, says female dolls account for 90 percent of his sales. (AP)

Throughout history—from Pygmalion and his marble bride to Oskar Kokoschka and his fuzzy companion—the creators and users of sex dolls have been overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, straight men. “In the content analysis I did of magazines and books, I don’t think any of [the examples] involved women,” says Cynthia Ann Moya, vice-president of the erotica database Alta-Glamour.com Book Gallery, who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco on artificial vaginas and sex dolls from the late 19th century through the 1980s. “This is not to say that it never happened. But the mythologies that people tell each other about these sex dolls all involved men.”

The twin questions this raises are: “Why aren’t more women using sex dolls?” and “Why are so many men drawn to them?”

Some answers are purely practical. For instance, only 25 percent of women can consistently orgasm from vaginal sex alone, which makes a doll far from the most efficient sex toy. Also, when it comes to RealDolls and their ilk, everyone I spoke with told me how heavy they are. (Female RealDolls weigh between 75 and 115 pounds.) Some mentioned it sheepishly, others matter-of-factly, but there was a general consensus that the dolls are difficult for many women to move around.

There’s also plenty of speculation about the difference between men and women’s masturbation styles. In his 1936 book Studies in the Psychology of Sex, the English psychologist Henry Havelock Ellis wrote that men are more visual, while women are more imaginative and rely more on their sense of touch. Both Smith and McMullen reiterated this conventional wisdom, and, allowing for individual differences, it seems like a plausible enough explanation for why most dolls, like most porn, are made with men’s interests in mind. Most women care mainly about the actual tactile sensation, while men like things to look real, the thinking goes. When a man is getting it on with a doll, especially a modern one with its silicone skin and almost-human expression, it’s easier for him to pretend it wants him back.

There are some women who buy female dolls. But McMullen says many of them purchase the dolls with a male partner—or with the intention of dressing them up and enjoying them as fashion dolls. “A lot of women like the dolls because they’re like life-size Barbies,” he says.

Barbara, a 61-year-old small business owner from California, is one of the few women involved in the iDollator community. She says she first heard about the dolls through a news story about people who were using them to cheat their way into carpool lanes. Then she saw Davecat on the TLC show My Strange Addiction, got in touch, and found him “extremely welcoming.” The community as a whole embraces female members, despite being mostly male, she says.

Barbara and her husband own four dolls, which she says they use only for photography, though she has “not the slightest objection to people who use them for their ‘intended purpose.’”

“Feminists seem to be totally horrified by these dolls, which puzzles me, as I am a feminist,” Barbara told me in an email. “They say that the dolls ‘objectify’ women because they are so beautiful that real women cannot hope to compete with them on the basis of looks.”

Most feminists, however, probably aren’t objecting because they’re worried about entering into a beauty competition with the dolls. Complaints about objectification centered on men who treat women as objects—disregarding their agency or feelings and viewing them as mere tools to be used for selfish ends. Sex dolls are objects they’re also, critically, objects you can own. And these objects you can own are shaped, almost all of the time, like women.

A worker assembles sex dolls at a factory in China. (Reuters)

In her Ph.D. dissertation, Moya questions why there is something uniquely perverse about owning a sex doll. As she puts it, “A better spatula does not inspire lengthy monologues about human alienation and the reifying effects of technological mechanization on our lifestyles.” Sexuality is an appetite, not unlike hunger, but we treat the devices used to satisfy that appetite differently. If the doll owners aren’t hurting anyone, why should we condemn something that is basically just fancy masturbation?

But sex dolls do retain something of an ick-factor, even as vibrators and other sex toys have become more mainstream. That’s because the dolls are tied up with questions about gender and power in a way that spatulas (and even vibrators) are not.

According to Smith, any sort of non-reproductive sexual behavior has historically been seen as perverse. These days, though, many people are okay with sex that isn’t reproductive. We’re less okay with emotional attachments that aren’t socially productive, and so it seems the distaste is strongest for the small subset of men who consider themselves to be in romantic relationships with their dolls, rather than just using them for sex. We expect a relationship to involve mutual consent, a kind of equality and reciprocity that is impossible with a doll. By its very nature, the relationship is one-sided—a teeter-totter with only one person sitting on it.

But realistic dolls often do inspire real affection, and even devotion. Some men assign personalities and preferences to the dolls they design (Davecat’s dolls even have Twitter accounts), and they talk about them as one would a live partner. “There is genuine empathy here,” Smith writes, “what the Germans call Einfühlung, an entering into the feelings of an other.”*

A love for one’s own creation, though, is also, in a way, self-love, or narcissism. “This is why so much of it has to do with masturbation,” Smith says. “These things are not unconnected.”

Narcissistic or not, that attachment can become isolating. Smith points out that, especially in the age of technology, intimate relationships with objects aren’t so uncommon. “Think about the way you use your iPhone,” he says. “You hold it, and you stroke it, and you scroll. You’re holding it to your ear as we speak. It’s kind of a part of you. It’s an extension of you.” But things are different when the object is human-shaped and the relationship is sexual. Owning a doll can have “social and psychological consequences for men who want to develop these intimate and erotic relationships with an inanimate human form. I don’t want to pathologize anyone, but I think there’s a danger around the way that processes like that objectify men’s relationships with themselves in a way that restricts an authentic emotional intelligence.”

Sarah Valverde, a researcher and mental health therapist, did her masters thesis in psychology on the demographics and psychological characteristics of sex doll owners. She says that many of the men she surveyed for her research felt shame or embarrassment about owning sex dolls. But contrary to popular stereotypes, they were just as satisfied with their lives, on average, as the general population, and didn’t suffer higher-than-normal rates of depression or other mental illness. Owning a sex doll “is certainly a deviant sexual behavior from our norm,” she says. “But unless it’s all-consuming and it impacts other areas of life, we really can’t define it as a disorder.”

A sex doll named Koyuki on display at the showroom of Orient Industry, a high-end manufacturer based in Tokyo (Reuters)

There are many understandable, even sympathetic, reasons for owning sex dolls. Some doll owners are just having fun. Some suffer from social anxiety or even disabilities that might make human relationships difficult. Some people just want to take arty photographs. The whole phenomenon is surprisingly hard to nail down.

“You want a quote, don’t you?” Smith asks at the end of our wide-ranging conversation, when I ask if he can summarize all we’ve discussed. “I’ll try and make one up for you. It would have something to do with narcissism, something to do with fantasy, something to do with creativity, something to do with persons and things. It has to do with struggles over questions of intimacy. I think that’s really quite key.”

These questions of intimacy inevitably come back to the relationship between the genders. We may not be able to extrapolate much from one person’s motives for buying a sex doll. But the phenomenon as a whole is like a funhouse mirror—it may show a skewed reflection of male-female relationships, but it emphasizes some aspects we’d rather not see. These woman-shaped things, which can be whatever their owners want them to be, represent the far end of a spectrum of social attitudes. Plenty of men would like real women to be a little more like dolls.

When I spoke to Davecat last year, he was offended by this idea. “Ninety-eight percent of the iDollators and technosexuals I know treat their Dolls like goddesses,” he insisted. “A lot of men are lonely because they’re misogynist pricks, true, but a lot of other men are lonely because they don’t meet women’s expectations.” But then he went on: “Dolls don’t possess any of the unpleasant qualities that organic, flesh and blood humans have. A synthetic will never lie to you, cheat on you, criticize you, or be otherwise disagreeable.”

This is the doll-lover’s frequent lament: Women are unpredictable and dolls are steadfast women will leave you and dolls are loyal women demand things and dolls accept you for who you are. Women are human and dolls are not.

The inventor of the Fleshlight, a popular masturbation toy for men, also submitted a patent in 1995 for a “female functioning mannequin.” (Within the mannequin’s “cavity,” as the patent puts it, would have been a cartridge full of “oily elastomer.”) According to Smith’s book, the inventor cited “as the reasons for its invention the fact that women are cruel, venal, superficial, that they humiliate and break the hearts of men and that dolls on the contrary are reliable, compliant, companionable, and loving.”

Valverde’s research (along with plenty of anecdotal evidence) suggests that the dolls do provide comfort, and a sexual outlet, for some men who can’t find or don’t want a human romantic relationship. But in the grand history of time, women and gay men have surely felt rejected and lonely—straight men don’t have a monopoly on those feelings.

Valverde has her own explanation for why many men use the “women are cruel” argument to explain their attraction to dolls. “Margaret Atwood’s quote: ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’ I think that’s true.”

Owning a sex doll is not a violent act. But as these creations come to look more and more realistic, their lifeless, prone silicone bodies are reminders of unequal gender power dynamics that play out in the real world. And as human women become more empowered, sex dolls offer a way for men to retreat into relationships where they are still in control. A doll is a woman-shaped thing that may bring a man comfort, may inspire devotion in him, and may drive away his loneliness. It will never challenge him, and it will certainly never do anything to make him feel ridiculous.

* This post originally quoted the German word for empathy as "Einfurlung." We regret the error.


1. Archimedes (BC 287-212)

The Greek mathematician and physicist was undeniably one of the greatest inventors in history. While not much of his life and work is known, Archimedes’ contribution to science can never be questioned. Modern-day technology owes much to Archimedes for inventing the lever, the pulley, the cog, and the catapult. And who can forget the famous Archimedes screw. Fluid mechanics perhaps would have been a non-starter without his Eureka moment.


Henry Ford 1863-1947

Henry Ford did not invent the automobile as many people mistakenly assume. But he did improve the assembly line for automobile manufacturing, received a patent for a transmission mechanism, and popularized the gas-powered car with the Model-T.


Bad Predictions About Great Inventions

In 1899, Charles Howard Duell, the Commissioner of Patents, was quoted as saying, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." And of course, we now know that to be so far from the truth. However, it was only an urban legend that Duell ever made that bad prediction.

In fact, Duell stated that in his opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the 20th century would witness. A middle-aged Duell even wished that he could live his life over again to see the wonders which were to come.

Explore some of the worst predictions regarding some of the greatest inventions.