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The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature [Hardcover]

Geoffrey Miller
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 18 2000 0385495161 978-0385495165 1
Many aspects of how and why the human mind evolved remain mysterious. While Darwinian natural selection has successfully explained the evolution of much of life on earth, it has never seemed fully adequate to explain the aspects of our minds that seem most uniquely and profoundly human--art, morality, consciousness, creativity, and language. Nor has natural selection offered solutions to how the human brain evolved so quickly--in less than 2 million years--and why such a large brain remains unique to our species.

Now, in The Mating Mind, a pioneering work of evolutionary science, these aspects of human nature are at last explored and explained. Until fairly recently most biologists have ignored or rejected Darwin's claims for his other great theory of evolution--sexual selection through mate choice, which favors traits simply because they prove attractive to the opposite sex. But over the last two decades, biologists have taken up Darwin's insights into how the reproduction of the sexiest is as much a focus of evolution as the survival of the fittest.

In this brilliantly ambitious and provocative book, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller shows the evolutionary power of sexual choice and the reasons why our ancestors became attracted not only to pretty faces and healthy bodies, but to minds that were witty, articulate, generous, and conscious. The richness and subtlety of modern psychology help to reveal how the human mind evolved, like the peacock's tail and the elk's antlers, for courtship and mating.

Drawing on new ideas from evolutionary biology, economics, and psychology, Miller illuminates his arguments with examples ranging from natural history to popular culture, from the art of New Guinea's bowerbirds to the sexual charisma of South Park's school chef. Along the way, he provides fascinating insights into the inarticulacy of teenage boys, the diversity of ancient Greek coins, the reasons why Scrooge was single, the difficulties of engaging with modern art, and the function of sumo wrestling.

Witty, powerfully argued, and continually thought-provoking, Miller's cascade of ideas bears comparison with such pivotal books as Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene and Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. It is a landmark in our understanding of our own species.

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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 compares it 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 that Miller brings to bear on it. Steeped in popular culture, the book 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. Indeed, 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 comforting, but denuding sexual chemistry can be a curiously unsexy business, akin to analyzing humor. 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,

From Publishers Weekly

The booming but controversial field of evolutionary psychology attempts to explain human feelings and behaviors as consequences of natural selection, using plausible analogies from the animal kingdom to show (for example) why we have the capacity to enjoy music, or why men commit violent crimes. Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at University College-London, argues that much of human character and culture arose for the same reason peacocks have beautiful tails: mating purposes. A peacock that can find enough to eat and avoid being eaten despite such an enormous appendage must have very good genes; by displaying its tail, then, a peacock displays its potential to be a good mate. Miller looks at several kinds of sexual selection. "Romantic" behavior like the making of complex art wouldn't have helped our ancestors find more food or avoid predators. It might, however, have helped display the fitness of proto-men for the proto-women with whom they wanted to mate--and vice versa. If we like to show off our large vocabularies, it's at least in part because our ancestors sought smart partners. Miller's enjoyable book also surveys animal kingdom parallels and recent theoretical arguments about sexual selection. Like most popular evolutionary psychologists, however, Miller doesn't always distinguish between a plausible story and a scientifically testable hypothesis. And some of his arguments seem covertly circular, or self-serving: Do we really need Darwin to explain why men publish more books than women? Still, picturing "the human brain as an entertainment system that evolved to stimulate other brains," Miller provides an articulate and memorable case for the role of sexual selection in determining human behaviors. Agent, John Brockman.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why diamonds instead of potatoes? Aug. 13 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
When Darwin published The Descent of Man in 1872, he raised the issue of why so many species' males invest costly physical resources in sexual displays. His answer was the mating game. Peacock's tails are difficult to lug around, use material that might be better applied elsewhere in the body, and make the bird susceptible to predation. Darwin's answer was the cost was a mating investment - peahens clearly preferred males with the most outstanding displays. Monkeys in the forests and swamp frogs expend similar energy in calling over great distances seeking mates. The females of these species listen, weighing some unknown factor in deciding which male to select to bear their offspring. Can such a strategy be applied to human mating practices?
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?
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5.0 out of 5 stars If virtual reality gets cheaper than dating...... July 14 2004
When virtual reality gets cheaper than dating, society is doomed......the title is Dogbert's succinct perspective of evolutionarty psychology focusing on human sexual choice and male courtship effort.
As a neophyte I was impressed with the intriguing ideas evenly sprinkled throught the book. Principal among these was the runaway brain, fitness indicators and the handicap principle that Miller uses as a basis to explain human mind's intricate evolution. Miller tries to argue that any form of sexual selection for fitness indicators should even out genetic variation in fitness - which means if females favor tall males then all males should be tall. Yet we dont see that and the differences remain in the species - so why does evolution allows such differences. Another interesting idea, originally proposed by Zahavi, is the handicap principle - which is advertising fitness and "sexual ornamentation" by handicapping an individual with a survival cost. It basically means fit peacocks showing off extravagant plumage to attract mates even if it means making themselves more prone to predators or simply carrying the extra load around risking their survial. Highly evolved fitness indicators means using costly signals to attract a mate. In human terms it might transform to - you buying an expensive diamond ring from Cartier for your lady-love fully aware that its gonna make a dent in your pocket, will add no survival benefit whatsoever to you or her but yet show her that you make so much money that not only you can buy that ring but you are willing to devote tremendous personal resources to win her.
Evolution of human morality - which itself is a costly indicator, may also have been selected through sexual choice.
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I started following Geoffrey Miller's work 6 years ago when all that was available was his PHd thesis and some journal articles which I found original and entralling. The Mating Mind, Miller's first book, lives up to the ideas first discussed in his thesis but now presented in a more focussed yet relaxed fashion.
Miller makes clear an argument the humans evolved according to sexual selection, an suggestion that Darwin first proposed in Descent of Man. Males and females picking each other for specific attributes drove, through sexual selection, an evolution of human features including brain size increases, sexual organ characteristics and human behaviors.
It is an evocative story, and one that may even be supported by recent studies in neurological disorders characterized by maturational delay. If the engine behind Miller's runaway sexual selection is a slowing down in maturation rates (neoteny) revealed in the fossil record by a decrease in sexual dimorphism, then the neurological, physiological and behavioral tendencies of humans with disorders characterized by maturational delay should reveal the kind of human the Miller describes as transitional to modern times.
It is not often that an evolutionary theory uncovers an opportunity to reveal clues about our origin in the present day. Miller's theory does this. Kudos to an original and well thought out exposition.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A scholarly collection of ideas March 21 2004
This book has a Glossary in which Holocene is defined as "The geological era from 10.000 years ago to the present." (p. 441). As far as civilized society goes, that is a period which did for human beings what a far more ancient period did for bees and ants. There is no guide to pronunciation, but we might assume that it is not quite pronounced the same as hollow scene, an empty stage on which an audience expects something to happen, more or less civilized, depending on how popular a particular production has been. In very intellectual circles, it might be suspected that THE MATING MIND by Geoffrey F. Miller is the most highly scientific book on "How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature," as the subtitle puts it. To find harem in the index, you can check "harem system of single-male polygyny, 76, 183" but you will find more if you also look under polygyny, where there is an entry for "runaway sexual selection and, 74, 98, 195." Harems don't always happen, but "To describe our ancestors as following mating patterns like `moderate polygamy' and `serial monogamy' is just a useful shorthand for identifying these sexual selection pressures." (p. 195).
Chapter 3, The Runaway Brain (pp. 68-98), compares the speed at which the human brain grew from the size common in apes with the speed at which the tails of a flock of birds would grow if the most fertile females prefer the male bird with the longest tail. Long before the Holocene era, people who were fertile might have been more prone to rapid genetic change than we have observed lately because "One possible problem is that runaway sexual selection demands polygyny--a mating pattern in which some males mate with two or more females.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The sexiest nonfiction book I have read yet!
I could not put this book down. Any student in psychology or biology should read this book. Any man who would like to understand the underlying reasons of what works on the... Read more
Published on May 4 2004 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars More science, Less PC
Geoffrey Miller presents compelling evidence in this book for just how complex and efficient evolution really is. Read more
Published on July 25 2002 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A Seductive--literally--Thrill Ride...
Babe magnet Geoffrey Miller offers up a dizzying brew of Darwin, Veblen, Nietzsche, and more. His thesis: the spectacular human mind with its capacities for language, art, humor... Read more
Published on April 23 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars My Favorite Book!
This book, whether you agree with the author's thesis or not, is an absolutely fascinating piece of work. I loved every single page. Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2002 by Emily Vorce
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent. One of the best books ever written.
If you agree with Darwin, this book will change your
prespective about what a human being is. Read it, keep
it in a safe place, and recommend
your best friends to... Read more
Published on Dec 3 2001 by manel
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating,entertaining
Our brains not so much as survival mechanisms but as entertainment centers for the opposite sex, where males produce and females choose in a social mixed-sex setting; This is the... Read more
Published on Nov. 27 2001 by Willem Noe
5.0 out of 5 stars Miller's Mating Mind Makes Sense
Psychologist Geoffrey Miller takes on Darwin's long ignored theory of sexual selection and gives it new life. Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Miller's Mating Mind Makes Sense
Psychologist Geoffrey Miller takes on Darwin's long ignored theory of sexual selection and gives it new life. Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Sexual selection writ large, very large
There was a commercial for Toyota's Paseo a few years ago in which its reliability was being touted when suddenly an insistent voice came on and whispered what Toyota hoped was the... Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2001 by Dennis Littrell
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