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Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature [Hardcover]

David P. Barash

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Book Description

27 Sep 2012
For all that science knows about the living world, there are even more things that we don't know, genuine evolutionary mysteries that perplex the best minds in biology. And paradoxically, many of these mysteries are very close to home: They involve some of the most personal aspects of being human, including such unresolved questions as why do women experience orgasm, menstruation and menopause, why do men have a shorter lifespan than women, and why does homosexuality exist? Ditto for other evolutionary mysteries of our own species: Why is religion a "cross-cultural universal," along with a fondness for the arts? Why do we have such large brains, and why does consciousness exist? Homo Mysterious examines these and other evolutionary mysteries, exploring things that we don't (yet) know about ourselves, laying out the best current hypotheses and pointing toward insights that scientists are just beginning to glimpse. Readers are invited to share the thrill of science at its exploratory margins, where we know what we don't know, and, moreover, we know enough to come up with some compelling and seductive explanations. Homo Mysterious is a guide to creative thought and future explorations, based on the most current thinking of evolutionary scientists. For those who are interested in stretching their scientific imaginations, this book will expose the lure of the not yet known.

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I found this a delightful book... one that I would recommend to anyone interested in sampling evolutionary psychology as it ought to be done. PsycCRITIQUES, May 2013

About the Author

David P. Barash is Professor of Psychology and Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, and author or coauthor of 26 books, including Payback, Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature, The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People, and Natural Selections: Selfish Altruists, Honest Liars, and Other Realities of Evolution.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommend, Chapters 2-10 are great 6 Aug 2012
By ArtHistory500 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I also purchased this book after a review in 'Scientific American.' It includes very entertaining discussions considering unsolved human mysteries, from menstruation and hidden ovulation to religion. If chapter 1 gets you down, I recommend continuing on to chapter 2 and beyond, which will not disappoint. Now this is only my opinion, of course -- but I almost put the book down never to pick it up again when trying to read the first chapter, which reads like an Introduction instead of a chapter. Chapter 1 discusses reasons for the title and what the author hopes to accomplish in the text. Why? Maybe in the interest of brevity and fewer pages, editors no longer allow Introductions, forcing the poor authors to include introductory material in chapter 1. However, after skimming/skipping the few pages of introductory material, my expectations for a good read were met beginning with chapter 2. I'll pass the book on to my husband and recommend it to my friends.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mysteries demystified 29 Dec 2012
By W. Cheung - Published on Amazon.com
Essentially this is a fascinating book on some proposed evolutionary psychology explanations of human behaviors and characteristics, i.e. the ways these behaviors might have conferred survival and reproductive benefits. Four areas are explored: sex, art, religion and intelligence. The first is most satisfactorily explained. So successful that I don't think there is any mystery left (although the author poses a more modest claim). It attempts to explain for instance, quoting Dr Sarah Hrdy, "a disconcerting mismatch between a female capable of multiple sequential orgasms and a male partner typically capable of one climax per copulatory bout" (page 58). Likewise, with five pages of 83 references, it attempts to explain how natural selection allows the persistence of homosexuality, when this should ostensibly reduce reproductive success by definition. Another interesting topic covered is the uniqueness of human females having prominent breasts even when not lactating - this is not observed in other mammals or primates.

The chapters on art and religion, however, are less rewarding. Readers can decide themselves how convincing they are. E.g. if art is a by-product of sexual selection (Chapter 6), then should we not expect more female connoisseur when/if there is a preponderance of male artists? And shouldn't artists in general have disproportionately more progeny?

There are two chapters on religion. Although interesting, there is something missing or even amiss here. The two definitions of religion used in the book, one by Daniel Dennntt (p. 210) and the other by Emil Durkheim (p. 239), restricts the discussion primarily to the social aspects of religion. The book does not discuss religious experience at all. Arguably this is of utmost importance to a religious believer. This remains unexplored and still very mysterious indeed. Saying that, it offers some enlightening remarks. E.g. whilst religion may be a form of memes (but what isn't?), the author does emphasize that "it is also possible for memes to be neutral or even beneficial; indeed, the great majority of them probably are" (p. 209). Also, he opines "it might be claimed that a neuronal or genetic substrate for religious belief makes such belief more legitimate, implying that God implanted the appropriate genes or orchestrated the neuronal connections" (p. 203). Theists need not to worry here.

The penultimate chapter on intelligence is stimulating. The question of "if human intelligence skyrocketed because our ancestors lived in social groups surrounded by other ... ... why didn't the same thing happen to other species?" (p. 292). I will leave it to you to read about his answer. It is quite inspiring.

Overall very informative. Fully worth the while.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The 'Why' of Human Development in terms of ' reproductive advantage' 21 Aug 2012
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
At the outset of this work David Barash distinguishes between religious 'mystery' and scientific 'mysterious' His approach is one in which he is seeking to understand by scientific means elements in human development which are 'mysterious' By 'mysterious' he means that they may not be known now but are 'knowable' He also makes clear that his focus is on nuts- and- bolts explanations of certain behaviors but rather on the 'why' behind them. He, a long - time teacher of Science, wishes too to stimulate the reader into understanding that while Science is often taught as if he we know and understand completely the subject matter in question in fact in most areas of scientific work unanswered questions abound. For Barash it is clear that these answers will eventually be found by Science. In this work he is taking what he regards as some of the most interesting questions related to human development and exploring them. At the outset he will study pecularities of female human sexuality including 'concealed ovulation' 'prominent breast size and 'women's orgasm'. He will also study same- sex sexuality, the question of why women live longer than men, the development of art and culture, and religion. The explanations he will give will be in terms of what adds to 'reproductive advantage' of those involved. And this though he makes it clear that the answers he gives our not definitive and are subject to further investigation. Still he seems to opt for the hypothesis that none of these behaviors might have simply emerged and remained as part of the human without their having some evolutionary advantage. The one underlying grand principle behind every explanation he suggests is 'reproductive advantage'. However central the concept to explaining the overall development of Life it may well be mistaken to automatically assume it provides the answer for all human developments, including language, bipedalism, our three times larger than any other primate brains.
It is clear that he is at best when he deals with elements more closely connected to the biological and physical. On the broader human cultural subjects it seems that speculation has the upper hand.
The work is nonetheless full of interesting ideas and hypotheses which which may enhance our understanding of various aspects of human development.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Evolutionary Biology explanation for our current health crisis 10 Jan 2014
By Jon S. Chorley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Highly engaging yet rigorous review of the evolutionary history of our species, with special emphasis on energy trade-offs, which effectively sets the stage for the second part, which discusses the health impacts of the resulting evolutionary miss-matches in our modern over-abundant lifestyle.
This book had sufficient "substance" to give the conclusions credibility, without being dry or overlay accademic. It also explained many aspects of our species that had previously appeared odd to me - such as why we, the naked ape, still hair on our heads.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Questions, Unsatisfying Answers 3 Nov 2012
By william e merritt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Dr Barash asks some fascinating questions . . . Why has natural selection not only tolerated homosexuality but, seemingly, selected for it in all sorts of species? Why do some people seem to have a biologically implanted need to be religious? Why art? Or dance? Or song? There are answers to these questions. The problem is, nobody has found them yet. This is not Dr Barash's fault. If somebody knew the answer, then the question would not be in the book.

To me, HOMO MYSTERIOUS was not satisfying because the lines of reasoning people are working along in trying to find the answers seem speculative and academic and detached from the way the world really works. This is, of course, not Dr Barash's fault except, perhaps, in choosing to write about unanswered questions in the first place. I just couldn't help thinking that if questions like this were investigated by blue-collar types instead of college proffesors, the speculations might be a lot more down-to-earth and satisfying.

As a practicing atheist myself . . . one might even say an atheist fundamentalist . . . I admired Dr Barash's stating upfront that he, too, is a non-believer and, then, having the intellectual honesty to treat fairly the need many people feel for religion.
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