The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature: How Sexual Choice Shaped Human Nature Paperback – 31 May 2001
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Evolutionary psychology has been called the "new black" of science fashion, though at its most controversial it more resembles the emperor's new clothes. Geoffrey Miller is one of the Young Turks trying to give the phenomenon a better spin. In The Mating Mind he takes Darwin's "other" evolutionary theory--of sexual rather than natural selection--and uses it to build a theory about how the human mind has developed the sophistication of a peacock's tail to encourage sexual choice and the refining of art, morality, music and literature.
Where many evolutionary psychologists see the mind as a Swiss army knife, and cognitive science sees it as a computer, Miller's analogy is to an entertainment system, evolved to stimulate other brains. Taking up the baton from studies such as Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, it's a dizzyingly ambitious project which would be impossibly vague without the ingenuity and irreverence which Miller brings to bear. Steeped in popular culture, it mixes theories of runaway selection, fitness-indicators and sensory bias with explanations of why men tip more than women and how female choice shaped (quite literally) the penis. It also extols the sagacity of Mary Poppins (Miller allows ideas to cascade at such a torrent that the steam given off can run the risk of being mistaken for hot air).
That large personalities can be as sexually enticing as oversize breasts or biceps may indeed prove solacing, but denuding sexual chemistry can be a curiously unsexy business, akin to analysing humour. As a courting display of Miller's intellectual plumage, though, The Mating Mind is formidable: its agent provocateur chest swelled with ideas and articulate conjecture. While occasionally his magpie instinct may loot fool's gold, overall it provides an accessible and attractive insight into modern Darwinism and the survival of the sexiest. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Intriguing... The discussion of the mind as a mechanism of attracting mates is fascinating" (Washington Post Book World)
"A refined, an intellectually ingenious, and a very civilised discussion of the possible importance of sexual selection for mental evolution" (John Constable, Cambridge University 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 cultures evolve on their own, separate from the evolution of the human mind" (Observer)
"Thoughtful, witty and vividly written" (Richard Dawkins)
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Top Customer Reviews
Geoffrey Miller's answer is a resounding "Yes!" Humans, however, are far more complex than peacocks. In this book, Miller contends that instead of garish tails or mating calls, it is the human brain that provides the mechanisms for mate selection. Like the peacock's tail, the human brain is a costly organ - using 20% of our resources even when resting. Why is the brain so demanding? It has many jobs to do, memory, vision, controlling motion and speech and directing other activities. The human mind's most impressive abilities, Miller states, are "courtship tools, evolved to attract and entertain sexual partners." These "tools" include such seemingly disparate practices as sports, poetry, art and literature. Many of these factors in our lives are the result of language development. Why did these talents evolve, and how do they affect our mate selection? Where some animals offer food as a mating incentive, men offer diamonds, songs or prose. Why not offer something to eat, like a potatoe, instead of a diamond, which lacks practical value?Read more ›
The main point of the book is that the origin of several human traits (language, for example) is due, not to natural selection, but to sexual selection. This means that the most powerful force to shape human behaviour has been mate choice (this applies to both males and females). Miller also suggest that we have our huge brain due to sexual selection, because this is the only one that makes possible to keep traits with no immediate evolutive benefit (other that increasing your sex-appeal).
There is a brief comparison between sexual selection and marketing-drive corporations, which is both interesting and enlightening.
The book is very well written and the topic is very interesting. A truly great book.
Miller begins with a simple and yet far-reaching logical point: each one of our ancestors managed not just to survive "but to convince at least one sexual partner to have enough sex to produce offspring." Anyone who didn't "attract sexual interest did not become our ancestors, no matter how good they were at surviving." Darwin realized this, and argued that evolution is driven by both natural selection (arising through competition for survival) and sexual selection (arising through competition for reproduction). The peacock's tail, for example, "makes no sense as an adaptation for survival, but it makes perfect sense as an adaptation for courtship." Without courtship, there is less chance of sexual reproduction, and without sexual reproduction there is no chance of inheritance. The concept of sexual selection shows how differences in reproductive success can lead to evolutionary change.
Sexually attractive biological "luxuries" such as the peacock's tail are not isolated quirks of the living world that can safely be ignored. They're everywhere and they're not biological accidents. A peacock in poor condition or with poor genes will probably not have as glorious a tail as a healthy peacock with good genes.Read more ›
A female will have most descendants if she mates with a male with a good genetic set of cards (and conversely of course). In humans, it's normally the case that males present themselves to a female and then she gets to decide.
The decision process works better if there are fitness indicators: traits of appearance and/or behaviour which are reliably correlated with an underlying good-quality set of genes. As there are a number of different ways to excel in human societies, fitness indicators could include athletic prowess, firm leadership, intellectual sparkle, superior moral character and so on.
Miller believes that many aspects of the human mind, including intelligence, language and pleasant personality are best understood as proxies for underlying genetic fitness (and thereby sexually-selected), rather than survivalist adaptations.
Sexual selection, once it's understood in its full beauty, is a new paradigm for thinking about human behaviour in all fields of life. Many sections of the book explore the implications for literature, visual arts, politics and even the practice of science itself. I think it is fair to say that the practitioners of all these arts - mostly men - do not see themselves as primarily advertising their biological fitness to women. However once you open your eye in the status-hoarding, inter-personal viciousness and aphrodisiac consequences of success in any of these fields, the reality is pretty obvious.
My reservations are as follows.
1.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It has been my 'bible' for some time, and still is a very important book. It will take time, still, before we learn the deep impact on our consciousness and knowledge of ourselves,... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Gorm G. Graae
If you think this book can fix your inabilities as a man then you need to get out there an talk to women. Read morePublished 24 months ago by Christoph Hadtstein
This book discusses (and advocates) Darwin's other theory, the one we don't talk about in polite company - sexual selection.
Totally convinced me. Read more
really good book to explain the history and development of Sexual selection. Some useful readings to complete it could be the Gould's Structure of evolutionary theory (Note Gould... Read morePublished on 27 Mar. 2013 by danipey
I bought this book for a module in my degree course. It has been really helpful in helping me to understand the idea of Sexual Selection. Read morePublished on 21 Nov. 2012 by Laurence
Miller theory is brillant and overdue. Although I think he possibly takes it slightly too far in some cases, his theory is generally sound. Read morePublished on 18 Aug. 2011 by labluke
Interesting reading on how the mysteries of mind and matter interact over evolutionary time scales to produce beauty in nature in its many forms from animal ornamentation to human... Read morePublished on 15 Aug. 2010 by Ville Savolainen
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