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Kinship & Inheritance among a Hermaphroditic Species

 
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eldin raigmore
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 24, 2010 7:28 pm    Post subject: Kinship & Inheritance among a Hermaphroditic Species Reply with quote

Given a species in which one person's father can be another person's mother (for instance, either all adults are hermaphrodites all the time, or they alternate between male and female with no rhythm or in idiosyncratic and unsynchronized rhythms), kinship terms are likely to be different than they are for any human cultures.

Each person will have a sire (or father) and a dam (or mother) who will be different from each other.

A person's offspring may either be those they* have begotten or those they* have conceived and borne.

*(English's only common or epicene (both masculine and feminine) personal pronouns are non-singular. I don't want to use a neuter (neither masculine nor feminine) pronoun like "it", because it connotes inanimacy or non-humanity.)

In "The Left Hand of Darkness" Ursula K. LeGuin suggests that Ego call those Alters whom they have sired "sons" and those Alters whom they have borne "daughters".

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Ego's siblings can either share both parents with Ego (full-siblings) or share just one parent with Ego (half-siblings).


I. If Alter shares both parents with Ego, either
I.A. Ego's sire is Alter's sire and Ego's dam is Alter's dam, or
I.B. Ego's sire is Alter's dam and Ego's dam is Alter's sire.

We might call the first kind (I.A.) "parallel-siblings" and the second kind (I.B.) "cross-siblings", or something.

It is my expectation that since someone of this species cannot distinguish between male siblings and female siblings, they will regard it as more important than we do to distinguish relative age.

So they'd have a term for each of
I.A.1 "older parallel-sibling"
I.A.2 "younger parallel-sibling"
I.B.1 "older cross-sibling"
I.B.2 "younger cross-sibling"

---------------------------------------------------------------------

II. If Alter shares exactly one parent with Ego, then either:
II.A. Ego's sire is Alter's sire (Alter is Ego's sire's son), or
II.B. Ego's sire is Alter's dam (Alter is Ego's sire's daughter), or
II.C. Ego's dam is Alter's sire (Alter is Ego's dam's son), or
II.D. Ego's dam is Alter's dam (Alter is Ego's dam's daughter).

I believe in this species half-siblings will be even more common than they are among humans; it may be that the next time both members of the parental couple are ready to mate, both are male or both are female; or, one may be pregnant while the other is ready to mate.

They may, then, distinguish between older half-siblings and younger half-siblings.
II.A.1. my sire's son older than me
II.A.2. my sire's son younger than me
II.B.1. my sire's daughter older than me
II.B.2. my sire's daughter younger than me
II.C.1. my dam's son older than me
II.C.2. my dam's son younger than me
II.D.1. my dam's daughter older than me
II.D.2. my dam's daughter younger than me

==============================================
***********************************************************
==============================================

INHERITANCE:

It makes sense for a person's heir to be their oldest daughter; that is, the heir is the oldest offspring of whom the decedent is the dam.

That might mean that quite often a couple's property would not all go to one heir. If two of their offspring were each other's cross-siblings, each of the offspring might inherit all of their dam's property but none of their sire's property.


==============================================
***********************************************************
==============================================

MECHANISMS by which such a kind of hermaphroditism might work:
I haven't got any thoughts yet that I'm sure I like.

But, if they alternate between male and female, what if they're mammals, and only males lactate? What if the process of discharging the lochia continues until the entire uterus and fallopian tubes are "vestigial", and the dam can produce proper milk instead of just colostrum only when they have begun to grow male organs?

I'm not sure that there wouldn't be selective advantage to having their rhythms synch up so that whenever one was male the other was female and vice-versa.

OTOH they could both be fully-functioning potential sires and also both be fully-functioning potential dams at the same time all the time. Which one is sire and which one is dam could be determined when they mate. It might be random as far as they know. They might have no choice in the matter, nor even any knowledge of which way it turned out until it became clear that one of them was pregnant.


==============================================
***********************************************************
==============================================

So;
What does anyone think?
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achemel



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PostPosted: Fri Sep 24, 2010 8:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow. I think that's very interesting. What exactly is this story you found the idea in about? What exactly do Ego and Alter stand for? Are they names, or rather some sort of terminology to match up with the sexual physiology of these people?

And, alternatively, what if this species of hermaphroditic creature wasn't developed enough to have language complex enough to encompass such ideas as kinship or even basic (non-)gender - do you suppose they would instead have some sort of nonverbal communication to show how closely related they believed themselves to be in relation to others? For example, for a "parallel-sibling" would they maybe sit closer together and facing each other, or in some manner which culturally would suggest familial ties? Would they be at such a yet-undeveloped level as to not care and commit serious incest all the time?

I have to say I'm imagining some sort of humanoid, but the concept also makes me think of snails and frogs, which then make me think of eating (or being eaten). If this species were not humanoid in shape, would gender-alternation or a constant hermaphroditic state serve any purpose in survival other than for reproductive purposes? Like, perhaps the form which sires offspring doesn't taste as good to predators as the dam form, or perhaps when in dam form they have some special property, which, culturally, lends the individual some sort of political or organizational sway over a community? If they can't distinguish gender like you suppose, would age be a determining factor in community politics or organization as well as simple family relations?

Do you plan to base a language (or have one already) with this concept in it? Haha... lots of questions and comments.
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Tolkien_Freak



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PostPosted: Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Somehow I get the feeling that it would be very simple terminology - perhaps maybe 'parent' and 'child', or 'mother' (whoever provides the egg) and 'father' (whoever provides the sperm). There would likely be more complicated terms for siblings - i.e. someone with the same mother, someone with the same father, someone with both the same - but beyond that I don't expect much.
Though, the dimension of age might be more important as you say - but on the other hand, perhaps the proliferation of half-siblings would render it sufficient to say 'someone who shares my mother'. English only has one dimension (that of gender), but then again other languages have more. It would likely be on a language-by-language basis whether or not there are terms that imply relative age as well as parentage.

You use the terms 'son' and 'daughter' - I'm not sure what you mean by those, it seems to me that the difference is basically meaningless.

I would expect inheritance to be simply whoever got born first, or perhaps equal division between offspring. Since each entity regularly mates with several others, I would expect there to be little concept of 'marriage' (though maybe some sort of weird triangular-or-more agreement might be possible), and so children would inherit separately from each parent.
(Either that or as you say, it could be like plants where each could act as male or female under any circumstances, in which case marriage as humans know it would be perfectly natural.)
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eldin raigmore
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 8:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I will reply later. I'm out of time! (heck and darn).
But thanks for your replies.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 7:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

achemel wrote:
What exactly is this story you found the idea in about?
More than one, by more than one author, but one of them is "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. Leguin.

achemel wrote:
What exactly do Ego and Alter stand for? Are they names, or rather some sort of terminology to match up with the sexual physiology of these people?
Not name. Terminology, but not to match up with sexual physiology.
Latin for "I" is "ego" and Latin for "other" is "alter".
When discussing kinship teminology it is common to use the capitalized "Ego" to mean "the person to whom someone (i.e. Alter) is related by that kinterm" and the capitalized "Alter" to mean "the person who is related by that kinterm to someone (i.e. Ego)".
Thus, in English, if Ed's father is Bob, and Bob's brother is Abe, then, if Ed is "Ego" and Abe is "Alter", the term is "uncle". (But if Abe is "Ego" and Ed is "Alter", the term is "nephew".)

achemel wrote:
And, alternatively, what if this species of hermaphroditic creature wasn't developed enough to have language complex enough to encompass such ideas as kinship or even basic (non-)gender - do you suppose they would instead have some sort of nonverbal communication to show how closely related they believed themselves to be in relation to others? For example, for a "parallel-sibling" would they maybe sit closer together and facing each other, or in some manner which culturally would suggest familial ties? Would they be at such a yet-undeveloped level as to not care and commit serious incest all the time?
If they don't have a language I don't see how they can have (much of) a culture. They wouldn't have incest taboos, just widely-shared preferences.
Any gender system their language would have would be non-sex-based, and thus probably animacy-based instead. (Unless everyone's sex changed exactly once in their life, and all in the same direction for all of them. Then, sex-based gender and age-based gender would be sort of almost the same thing.)

achemel wrote:
I have to say I'm imagining some sort of humanoid, but the concept also makes me think of snails and frogs, which then make me think of eating (or being eaten). If this species were not humanoid in shape, would gender-alternation or a constant hermaphroditic state serve any purpose in survival other than for reproductive purposes? Like, perhaps the form which sires offspring doesn't taste as good to predators as the dam form, or perhaps when in dam form they have some special property, which, culturally, lends the individual some sort of political or organizational sway over a community? If they can't distinguish gender like you suppose, would age be a determining factor in community politics or organization as well as simple family relations?
I also intended them to be at least linguistically and mentally "humanoid", if not physically so; in LeGuin's novel they are humans (just long-lost distant relatives of us).
In RL, "constant hermaphroditism" is useful when conspecifics are rare. If you finally meet someone to go out with on Saturday night, you don't run a 50%-50% risk that they can't mate with you.
The same pressure could lead to being able to store the sperm from a mating, so you could still get pregnant again even if, next year, you didn't meet anybody.
If conspecifics are even rarer -- if there's a solid chance that a given individual will never in its life meet another who is a suitable mate -- then various kinds of one-parent-only reproduction (e.g. cloning, self-fertilization, and/or mitosis-followed-by-endoreduplication) become selective advantages.

achemel wrote:
Do you plan to base a language (or have one already) with this concept in it? Haha... lots of questions and comments.
Well, I'd like to. I can't say that my plan is solid yet. Also, I can think of several different arrangements, and I doubt I'll ever be able to use more than one or two of them (if that many). I just wondered who had thoughts about it.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 7:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tolkien_Freak wrote:
Somehow I get the feeling that it would be very simple terminology - perhaps maybe 'parent' and 'child', or 'mother' (whoever provides the egg) and 'father' (whoever provides the sperm).
Right, I was using "mother" or "dam" for "parent who conceives and bears", and "father" or "sire" for "parent who fertilizes and begets".

Tolkien_Freak wrote:
There would likely be more complicated terms for siblings - i.e. someone with the same mother, someone with the same father, someone with both the same - but beyond that I don't expect much.

My idea is that the biggest divide would be between "people whose mother is also my own mother" and "everyone else".
Within that, "older than me" vs "younger than me" might be the most important division; or might be an important division (but not the most important).
Also, among "people whose mother is also my own mother", the divide between "people who also share a father with me" and "people who share only one parent with me" might be important; maybe the second or third most important.
Among "everyone else", I'd expect "people whose mother is my father" vs "people whose mother is not one of my parents" to be the most important divide. Among "people whose mother is my father", "people whose father is my mother" would be more closely related than "people whose mother is my father but whose father is not my parent".
One might also distinguish "people whose father is my mother but whose mother is not my parent".
I suppose 12 different kinterms -- 4 for "full siblings" and 8 for "half-siblings" -- might be a lot, compared at least to English. But Mandarin and some Scandinavian languages are a lot more precise than English and have a lot more kinterms; 12 kinterms for different kinds of siblings is not that big a stretch compared to them.

Tolkien_Freak wrote:
Though, the dimension of age might be more important as you say - but on the other hand, perhaps the proliferation of half-siblings would render it sufficient to say 'someone who shares my mother'. English only has one dimension (that of gender), but then again other languages have more. It would likely be on a language-by-language basis whether or not there are terms that imply relative age as well as parentage.
Yes, I guess you're right. Maybe we'd have only:
  • people older than me whose mother is my mother;
  • people younger than me whose mother is my mother;
  • people whose mother is my mother and whose father is my father;
  • people whose mother is my father and whose father is my mother; and,
  • people whose mother is my father.


Tolkien_Freak wrote:
You use the terms 'son' and 'daughter' - I'm not sure what you mean by those, it seems to me that the difference is basically meaningless.
Well, "daughter" to mean "female offspring" or "son" to mean "male offspring" would indeed be of little use.
LeGuin, in "the Left Hand of Darkness", retasked these words; "daughter" means "person of whom I am the mother", and "son" means "person of whom I am the father".

Tolkien_Freak wrote:
I would expect inheritance to be simply whoever got born first,
That was the idea; a decedent's heir is whichever of their offspring they bore first. (The offspring the decedent begot don't inherit unless the decedent didn't bear any children; not even if they are older than any whom the decedent bore.)

Tolkien_Freak wrote:
or perhaps equal division between offspring.
All offspring? Or just the ones whose mother is the decedent? In other words, are offspring whom the decedent begot, on an even keel with those whom the decedent bore?

Tolkien_Freak wrote:
Since each entity regularly mates with several others,
Not necessarily; it could depend on the conculture. Nevertheless I did explicitly want to consider the possibility "each entity regularly mates with several others", just as you said.

Tolkien_Freak wrote:
I would expect there to be little concept of 'marriage' (though maybe some sort of weird triangular-or-more agreement might be possible), and so children would inherit separately from each parent.
You could be right. Also, that "weird triangular-or-more agreement" might be worth exploring, too.

Tolkien_Freak wrote:
(Either that or as you say, it could be like plants where each could act as male or female under any circumstances, in which case marriage as humans know it would be perfectly natural.)
In "The Left Hand of Darkness", there was marriage, and both parents participated in raising the offspring. Though no-one could tell in any given year which partner would be which sex next year, they could be sure that, as long as they remained partnered, they'd be opposite sex from each other.

-----------------------------------

Thanks for the replies, folks!
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achemel



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 9:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your explanations and answers! Wink It's a very interesting subject.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2010 10:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What if they just want to have sex but no offspring? How big or small the problem would it be for that society to deal with those people's way of thinking? Did they discover any birth control methods like contraception or contragestion?
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 12:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

kyonides wrote:
contragestion?
What's "contragestion"? "Any birth-control method that specifically prevents implantation (and thus gestation) of a fertilized egg". I'd never heard that distinguished from "contraception", which I guess is preventing fertilization in the first place, before. I suppose some religious people might equate contragestion with abortion, but not equate contra-fertilization with it.

kyonides wrote:
What if they just want to have sex but no offspring? How big or small the problem would it be for that society to deal with those people's way of thinking? Did they discover any birth control methods like contraception or contragestion?
I don't know.

[rant]
Have you heard about the Christian fundamentalist/literalist movement "the Quiver-full movement"? They think family-planning should be left totally up to God (i.e. chance). They have close to ten or more children each.

IMO that's a crime against humanity and against the planet, and they and all their children should be at least sterilized if not just executed. Maybe life-imprisonment without any possibility of meeting the opposite sex would be enough.

Anyway some of their women have problems related to pregnancy and delivery and risk death thereby.
[/rant]

I assume that the less likely a child is to survive to adulthood and marriage or mating, and the more resources needed for life there are available and unpolluted, the less people will want to limit reproduction and the likelier they are to want to improve fertility; whereas, the closer their planet is to its carrying-capacity for their species, and the likelier everyone is to live a full life-span, the more they will want to limit fertility.

I hadn't really worked out a history for any of them yet.

I think in David Gerrold's story their tech was pre-Victorian and their land was still pretty uncrowded.

In LeGuin's story their tech was in some respects pre-Modern and in others post-Modern (compared to ours). Their land was quite hostile, but they'd adapted well. I think they were close to their carrying capacity, but although people didn't often die of diseases or predation, the possibility of being injured (perhaps critically) by an environmental extreme was always present.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 9:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There were cases in the OT where people didn't have a single child until they were more than a 100 years old. I guess family planning is just a matter of how good you can take control of your body and not let it control you because of some urgent need to have sex and possibly let a female pregnant.

There could be some social reasons besides limited access to food that could make them think it twice before having children. Let me see if I can make one up (a new one if possible).
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What's "the OT"? The Old Testament?

-------------------------

Have you heard the theory that the ancestors of the Hebrews/Israelites originally counted in months, and then when they started re-telling the stories they kept the numbers the same?
So Methuselah would have been 969 months old instead of 969 years old; about 120.75 years. Pretty dam' old, but within reach for a modern.

If someone had their first kid at what we'd call 15 years, say, they'd have been around 180 months old; they might have been recorded as being a 180-"year"-old.

-------------------------

But I don't know how much support that theory has in fact.
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

According to scientists CO2 based living beings are able to live upto 1000 years before they finally degrade / dissolve / die. As I said, it's just the maximum for any living being, it doesn't mean all beings are able to achieve such a tremendous goal...
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 8:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Recently Scientific American had an article on cell-senescence.
It turns out that if repairing a cell that has accumulated a certain amount of error is expensive enough, the cell will turn off some of its self-renewing and/or self-maintenance functions, and will die soon thereafter.
It also turns out that "too expensive" means, more or less, "expensive enough to likely interfere with the organism's reproduction-allocated energy-budget".
If the organism's cells can be convinced that the organism is not going to reproduce again for a while, the threshold-biological-cost for cellular senescence goes up, and the organism ages more slowly -- sometimes much more slowly.
It turns out that "caloric restriction", which basically means "don't feed the organism quite enough calories for it to reproduce", does that convincing. If it's not going to get enough energy to reproduce, it might as well spend whatever energy it does get on self-repair and self-maintenance, so it can hold out longer in case its calorie-budget ever goes up again.
Also, organisms can be bred for longevity. It might be a bit difficult, because the longer-lived an organism of a given species is, the older it tends to be when it first reproduces, and the fewer offspring it tends to have.
Depending on the species this can multiply longevity by a lot or just a little. Among earthworms, some of them have been laboratory-bred to live six times longer than the average wild earthworm. Among humans, the estimate was that the greatest genetic-plus-calorie-restriction lifespan-increase would probably be to something like 1.3 (I don't remember the actual number, just that it was less than 1.5) times the average lifespan.
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