14 September 2010

A Beautiful Mind

The Mating Mind

After finishing Dawkins' classic The Selfish Gene, what remained clear in my mind was certain mentions of game theory and sexual selection. Wishing to read further into the subject of the latter, my search began, delivering myself into a few bookstores each offering me, in return, the same result for Matt Ridley's The Red Queen. It wasn't available at any of the bookstores I visited, though I did find it on Amazon. Matt Ridley and his work were sited on The Selfish Gene, it deals with sexual selection and its shaping of natural animal behavior. I discovered The Mating Mind on the shelves where The Red Queen should've sat had it been available.

Since hearing of sexual selection, I've been a bit awe inspired by this additional concept to the natural selection evolution theory. I feel, as does The Mating Mind's author Geoffrey Miller, that sexual selection has been rather slighted if not downright ignored by not just the ridiculous curriculum offered by my limited public schooling; but by cultural and social avenues through which one cannot escape hearing about evolution regardless of your education. Evolution in general is a very tricky, need-less-to-say sensitive, topic. There are too many impressions based on impressions just as there are many incorrect notions of Christianity based on inferences rather than what's actually written in the bible. I had an idea of what evolution was before I knew Darwin's first name, I still have yet to read Origin of Species but its ideas have been presented to me countlessly through pop mediums and scientific references such as Richard Dawkins and Geoffrey Miller, to name the most recent. Still, the phrase "something lost in translation" seems paramount to note. Most of what I thought I knew about evolution was generally related but not accurate to Darwin's original findings. I usually thought of biological evolution in terms of natural selection and survival of the fittest.

It never dawned on me that a more subtle, intimate force may act on Life, where sexual choice determines the behavior, appearance, or evolution of a species. Once you hear it, it seems obvious; after all, most species regenerate through sexual reproduction, passing their genes to the next generation. Even if you hold on to the ideas of competition for survival, wouldn't it seem logical that sexual mates are discriminated for weak traits and chosen for favorable traits that will benefit the offspring and thus, the next generation will be healthy enough to carry on the genetic legacy.

Geoffrey Miller's book was a serendipitous find because it focuses on Human Nature. The Red Queen, I imagine to be a general examination of what sexual selection is, not necessarily grounding itself on one life form as an exclusive example. The full title of Miller's work leaves no room for doubt regarding the book's topic, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature. Miller is not only insightful but also playful and fun even when borderline corky. He references Hamlet as easily as he does David Bowie or Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby, he illustrates vivid scenarios that seem comedic but are effective at once at communicating the message without wasting energy on extremely scientific terminology and complex analogies. The chapters are all broken up into small passages that make for good pacing. The passages are all titled and relevantly add up to the chapter which in turn adds up to the book itself--at first, this annoyed me because it felt like I was being undermined as a reader but after a few chapters you become grateful for the easy-reading layout, considering the otherwise complex material. I applaud how light this book is to read, I feel it could be really easy to make this subject very complicated and confusing.

Despite my overall joy at being properly introduced to sexual selection by Miller. What The Mating Mind has also achieved is the opening of a smaller pair of eyes that now cannot close and fiendishly analyze human behavior in terms of sexual selection. To be told that my intelligence and its displays are fitness indicators for the opposite sex, this brings about an insecure self-conscious pause to me as an "artist". Meaning, if my drawings, paintings, music, jokes, morals, and even this entry about The Mating Mind, are all executed at some level to get attention from females, that sort of bums me out, makes me feel one-dimensional. Although Miller clearly states his stance, Artists are Artists and they are such for their own reasons but the practice and adaptations available to them for when they feel the need to create were evolved in our ancestors due to pressures of displaying the mind as an advertisement of genetic fitness. And that males have a more natural need to be creative, though they are not any better equipped for creativity than females. This differs tremendously from the impression of human intelligence I previously held, that intelligence is the survival tool us humans evolved as a result of being otherwise, a delicately designed species and that art, music, etc. were side-effects; based on adaptations originally meant for exclusive survivalist functions.

Finishing The Mating Mind clears up many curiosities I had after The Selfish Gene about sexual selection and leaves me with fresh obscurities about the human senses; cognition and neuroscience. I want to learn more about the specific adaptations that encourage and support our creativity. I'm as excited by the doors sexual selection had opened for me as I am mournful of the romantic ignorance it has partially buried. Still, for the most part a really great read. I'm really interested in what my female friends would have to say about this book. According to Miller, women read more than we do and faster, but men write more books.

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