Sunday, March 05, 2006

Rules of Cuteness -- Look out, Universe!

Jim Milles refers us to Cute Overload
for a daily application of cuteness. I
actually visited and was very interested
to see that they have a section titled
“The Rules of Cuteness.” This is actually
of great interest to me. I think we are
hard-wired to find certain appearances
irresistible in order to hood-wink mammals
(including humans) into the terribly hard
work of raising our young. I believe this
same hard-wiring is in place for birds as
well, whose young have the same cuteness
factors as mammals.

Mammalian/bird cuteness factors include
large eyes, set wide on a face crowded low
beneath an extra-large forehead. A tiny nose
and mouth or beak, a small chin, a thin neck
and small body with tiny limbs finishes a
summary of the description of our babies. We
find such attributes cute, and long to care for,
cuddle and protect the tiny things that have
such features. So we adopt kittens, puppies,
hamsters, baby birds. And cats willingly
adopt baby rabbits. Dogs will nurse and raise
baby opossums or kittens. We are hard-wired.

I find it a very interesting thing to contemplate
whether, if we ever meet intelligent beings
from other planets, they will have some
similar hard-wired cuteness factors. What will
be their cuteness factors? They need not be
anything like the ones on earth. Though many
of our cuteness factors are simply there because
our young have those features because they
have yet to grow into their adult bodies and
proportions. Perhaps there will be some
universal aspects to baby looks, though baby
reptiles and amphibians do not have that cute look.
Reptiles merely look like smaller versions of the
adult, while juvenile amphibians vary, from tadpoles
to half-formed froglets or salamanders. Cute is not
the word that springs to mind, though. Insects
move through a variety of stages from worm-like
larvae through instars that may or may not look
like smaller versions of adults. It depends on the
species. The difference in most of these animals is
that the parents do not take care of the young. The
reptile, amphibian and insect parents, by and large,
finish their parenting duties when they lay the eggs
in some suitable location. There is no advantage
to the offspring in looking cute. There is no aid
to be sought from the parent – if anything, the parent
might be more inclined to dine if they noticed
their progeny.

So, perhaps, it will depend on the sort of beings
we run across. What sort of life pattern they evolved.
If they have a long childhood, with lots of parenting,
they might have a cuteness factor. If they show up
with better technology than we have, I rather hope
they have superior philosophy or else we fit right into
their cuteness factors! To tell you the truth, they had
better have superior technology though – we are not
really very nice people ourselves. We think we are
warm and friendly, but if you look over our history,
we are pretty destructive folks. Maybe we’ll find
somebody who will enforce some peace.

No comments: