«Acclaim for Geoffrey Miller's THE MATING MIND Miller is an extremely talented writer, and he has produced a beautifully written book that is a ...»
Acclaim for Geoffrey Miller's
THE MATING MIND
"Miller is an extremely talented writer, and he has produced a
beautifully written book that is a genuine pleasure to read. The
strength of this work, however, goes well beyond style. Miller has
ambitiously described a scenario that provides insight into a
number of puzzles about the human mind." —Science
"Fascinating.... This book will be intriguing even to readers with
only a superficial knowledge of evolutionary biology."
—The Washington Post Book World "A brilliant and seductive book. It will sweep you off your feet.
And, when you come to earth again, you'll find yourself seeing the human mind and its most prized creations with new eyes."
—Nicholas Humphrey, New School for Social Research "This elegant, original, and lucid book is beguiling testimony to its own thesis: a fitting new feather in our cultural cap."
—Helena Cronin, London School of Economics "Miller is the real thing, and his wonderfully readable book should be read by everyone with a taste for serious ideas."
—The Independent (London) "A refined, an intellectually ingenious, and a very civilized discus- sion of the possible importance of sexual selection for mental evolution."
—John Constable, Cambridge University, in Psychology, Evolution, and Gender "Entertaining and wide-ranging." —Nerve "Flies in the face of evolutionary orthodoxy—proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and others—which suggests that culture evolves on its own, separate from the evolution of the human mind." —The Observer (London) "Witty, well-argued.... Ultimately, Miller is arguing for a com- monsense view of the evolution of human nature."
—The Times (London) "Anyone who thinks evolutionary theory is stuffy should pick up The Mating Mind. Geoffrey Miller sets our usual assumptions about human intelligence—that natural selection alone is re- sponsible—on its head."
—Meredith Small, author of What's Love Got to Do with It?
"Erudite, lucid, and ambitious." —Mirabella "Written with grace and wit while conveying a new and world- changing scientific theory... Miller's prose is as fluent, clever and epigrammatic as a good novelist's. At the very least what he has done is to find a place for beauty, waste and extravagance in science." —Matt Ridley, The Sunday Telegraph (London) "Consistently penetrating and ingenious... mixing outstanding sober exposition of the mechanisms of sexual selection with spec- ulations about its role in our capacities for morality, language, and creativity that range from deep to wild." —Financial Times Geoffrey Miller The Mating Mind Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and at UCLA, where he teaches animal communication and marketing. Born in 1965 in Cincinnati, he studied at Columbia University and received a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Stanford University.
After moving to Europe, he worked at the Universities of Sussex and Nottingham, at the Max Planck Institute in Munich, and at University College London. He lives with his family in Surrey, England and Los Angeles.
THE MATING MINDTHE MATING MIND How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature Geoffrey Miller
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., in 2000.
different route to some useful inventions. Perhaps the human mind evolved for military prowess, symbolized by the Sea-AirSpace Museum on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, docked at Pier 86. Or perhaps our minds evolved for reciprocal economic advantage, symbolized by the World Trade Center and Wall Street, or through a thirst for pure knowledge, as housed in the New York Public Library. The survival advantages of better technology, trade, and knowledge seem obvious, so many believe the mind's evolution must have been technophilic and survivalist.
Ever since the Darwinian revolution, this survivalist view has seemed the only scientifically respectable possibility. Yet it remains unsatisfying. It leaves too many riddles unexplained. Human language evolved to be much more elaborate than necessary for basic survival functions. From a pragmatic biological viewpoint, art and music seem like pointless wastes of energy. Human morality and humor seem irrelevant to the business of finding food and avoiding predators. Moreover, if human intelligence and creativity were so useful, it is puzzling that other apes did not evolve them.
Even if the survivalist theory could take us from the world of natural history to our capacities for invention, commerce, and knowledge, it cannot account for the more ornamental and enjoyable aspects of human culture: art, music, sports, drama, comedy, and political ideals. At this point the survivalist theories usually point out that along the transverse lies the Central Park Learning Center. Perhaps the ornamental frosting on culture's cake arose through a general human ability to learn new things.
Perhaps our big brains, evolved for technophilic survivalism, can be co-opted for the arts. However, this side-effect view is equally unsatisfying. Temperamentally, it reflects nothing more than a Wall Street trader's contempt for leisure. Biologically, it predicts that other big-brained species like elephants and dolphins should have invented their own versions of the human arts.
Psychologically, it fails to explain why it is so much harder for us to learn mathematics than music, surgery than sports, and rational science than religious myth.
CENTRAL PARK 3 I think we can do better. We do not have to pretend that everything interesting a n d enjoyable about h u m a n behavior is a side-effect of some utilitarian survival ability or general learning capacity. I take my inspiration not from the Central Park Learning Center on the n o r t h side of the transverse but from the R a m b l e on the south side. T h e R a m b l e is a 37-acre woodland hosting 250 species of birds. Every spring, they sing to attract sexual partners.
T h e i r intricate songs evolved for courtship. C o u l d some of our puzzling h u m a n abilities have evolved for the same function?
A Mind for Courtship This book proposes that o u r minds evolved not just as survival machines, but as courtship machines. Every one of our ancestors m a n a g e d n o t j u s t to live for a while, but to convince at least one sexual p a r t n e r to have e n o u g h sex to p r o d u c e offspring. T h o s e proto-humans that did n o t attract sexual interest did not become our ancestors, no m a t t e r h o w good they were at surviving. Darwin realized this, a n d a r g u e d that evolution is driven not just by natural selection for survival, b u t by an equally i m p o r t a n t process that he called sexual selection through mate choice. Following his insight, I shall argue t h a t t h e m o s t distinctive aspects of our minds evolved largely t h r o u g h the sexual choices o u r ancestors m a d e.
T h e h u m a n m i n d a n d the peacock's tail m a y serve similar biological functions. T h e peacock's tail is the classic example of sexual selection t h r o u g h m a t e choice. It evolved because peahens preferred larger, m o r e colorful tails. Peacocks would survive better with shorter, lighter, d r a b b e r tails. But the sexual choices of p e a h e n s have m a d e peacocks evolve big, bright p l u m a g e that takes energy to grow a n d time to preen, a n d makes it h a r d e r to escape from predators such as tigers. T h e peacock's tail evolved through mate choice. Its biological function is to attract peahens. T h e radial a r r a n g e m e n t of its yard-long feathers, with their iridescent blue a n d bronze eye-spots a n d their rattling movement, can be explained scientifically only if one understands that function. T h e tail makes no sense as an adaptation for survival, but it makes perfect sense as an adaptation for courtship.
THE MATING MIND4 T h e human mind's most impressive abilities are like the peacock's tail: they are courtship tools, evolved to attract and entertain sexual partners. By shifting our attention from a survival-centered view of evolution to a courtship-centered view, I shall try to show how, for the first time, we can understand more of the richness of h u m a n art, morality, language, and creativity A 1993 Gallup Poll showed that almost half of all Americans accept that humans evolved gradually over millions of years. Yet only about 10 percent believe that natural selection, alone and unguided, can account for the h u m a n mind's astounding abilities.
Most think that the mind's evolution must have been guided by some intelligent force, some active designer. Even in more secular nations such as Britain, many accept that humans evolved from apes, but doubt that natural selection suffices to explain our minds.
Despite being a committed Darwinian, I share these doubts. I do not think that natural selection for survival can explain the human mind. O u r minds are entertaining, intelligent, creative, and articulate far beyond the demands of surviving on the plains of Pleistocene Africa. To me, this points to the work of some intelligent force and some active designer. However, I think the active designers were our ancestors, using their powers of sexual choice to influence—unconsciously—what kind of offspring they produced. By intelligently choosing their sexual partners for their mental abilities, our ancestors became the intelligent force behind the human mind's evolution.
Evolutionary Psychology Turns Dionysian T h e time is ripe for more ambitious theories of human nature.
O u r species has never been richer, better educated, more numerous, or more aware of our common historical origin and common planetary fate. As our self-confidence has grown, our need for comforting myths has waned. Since the Darwinian revolution, we recognize that the cosmos was not made for our convenience.
CENTRAL PARK 5 But the Darwinian revolution has not yet captured nature's last citadel—human nature. In the 1990s the new science of evolutionary psychology m a d e valiant attempts. It views h u m a n nature as a set of biological adaptations, a n d tries to discover which problems of living a n d reproducing those adaptations evolved to solve. It g r o u n d s h u m a n behavior in evolutionary biology.
Some critics believe that evolutionary psychology goes too far a n d attempts to explain too m u c h. I think it does not go far enough. It has n o t taken some of o u r most impressive a n d distinctive abilities as seriously as it should. For example, in his book How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker argued that h u m a n art, music, humor, fiction, religion, a n d philosophy are not real adaptations, b u t biological side-effects of other evolved abilities.
As a cognitive scientist, Pinker was inclined to describe the h u m a n mind as a p r a g m a t i c problem-solver, not a magnificent sexual o r n a m e n t : ' T h e m i n d is a n e u r a l computer, fitted by natural selection with c o m b i n a t i o n a l algorithms for causal a n d probabilistic reasoning a b o u t plants, animals, objects a n d people."
A l t h o u g h he k n o w s t h a t r e p r o d u c t i v e success is evolution's b o t t o m line, he overlooked t h e possible role of sexual selection in s h a p i n g c o n s p i c u o u s display b e h a v i o r s such as a r t a n d music.
He asked, for e x a m p l e, "If m u s i c confers no survival a d v a n t a g e, w h e r e does it c o m e from a n d w h y does it w o r k ? " Lacking any manifest survival function, he c o n c l u d e d t h a t art a n d music m u s t be like cheesecake a n d p o r n o g r a p h y — c u l t u r a l inventions that stimulate o u r tastes in evolutionarily novel ways, w i t h o u t i m p r o v i n g o u r e v o l u t i o n a r y success. His views t h a t the arts are "biologically frivolous" has upset m a n y p e r f o r m i n g artists sympathetic to evolutionary psychology. In a televised BBC d e b a t e following t h e publication of How the Mind Works, the theatrical director a n d intellectual p o l y m a t h J o n a t h a n Miller took Pinker to task for dismissing t h e arts as n o n a d a p t a t i o n s w i t h o u t considering all their possible functions.
O n e of my goals in writing this b o o k has b e e n to see w h e t h e r evolutionary psychology could prove as satisfying to a p e r f o r m i n g artist as to a cognitive scientist. It m a y be 6 THE MATING MIND economically important to consider how the mind works, but it is also important to consider how the mind mates.
The view of the mind as a pragmatic, problem-solving survivalist has also inhibited research on the evolution of human creativity, morality, and language. Some primate researchers have suggested that human creative intelligence evolved as nothing more than a way to invent Machiavellian tricks to deceive and manipulate others. Human morality has been reduced to a tit-fortat accountant that keeps track of who owes what to whom.
Theories of language evolution have neglected human storytelling, poetry, wit, and song. You have probably read accounts of evolutionary psychology in the popular press, and felt the same unease that it is missing something important. Theories based on the survival of the fittest can nibble away at the edges of human nature, but they do not take us to the heart of the mind.
Moreover, the ritual celibacy of these survivalist doctrines seems artificial. Why omit sexual desire and sexual choice from the pantheon of evolutionary forces that could have shaped the human mind, when biologists routinely use sexual choice to explain behavioral abilities in other animals? Certainly, evolutionary psychology is concerned with sex. Researchers such as David Buss and Randy Thornhill have gathered impressive evidence that we have evolved sexual preferences that favor pretty faces, fertile bodies, and high social status. But evolutionary psychology in general still views sexual preferences more often as outcomes of evolution than as causes of evolution.