Top positive review
238 of 259 people found this helpful
"What would a savanna-raised primate do?"
on September 3, 2007
What happens when two psychologists write a book on why people do the things they do?
It gets a loooong title: Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire-- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do.
This book, written primarily by Alan Miller, has, as its core, a commitment to the Savanna Principle: "The human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment" (p. 21).
In other words, look to humans (or early hominids) hundreds of thousands of years ago to get a clue to why, well, if Hillary Clinton is elected President of the US, she will not have an affair.
This book is going to irritate some, be the subject of water cooler conversations, be involved in harassment complaints (seriously... someone is going to use the "Savanna Principle defense"), and hit the Jay Leno show. How can it not, when it is rich with topics like:
- The human "semen displacement device" (p. 85).
- The "horny sister hypothesis" (p. 181).
- The myth of the midlife crisis (p. 140).
- Why most suicide bombers are Muslim (p. 165).
- Why do children love their parents (p. 187).
The authors revisit early humans in the savanna. What strategies, environmentally and genetically based, lead to humans making more copies of themselves than other strategies ("genetic fitness"). How did natural selection affect humans from the shoulders up?
When I first read the "Savanna Principle" ( "The human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment"), I immediately thought of some very non-savanna issues: flying a F-22 Raptor, performing Shakespeare, developing open heart surgery... very non-ancestral environment human activities and accomplishments. I would say that the human brain does not have difficulties here. We are very trainable. Yet the focus of this book is on our interactions with other people, particularly male-female interactions.
I was immediately reminded of an earlier book titled Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, by Randolph Nesse and George C. Williams. They also took the view that we can better understand human health and sickness with a "Savanna Principle" approach.
The book is really hypothesis based. There are many ideas here, some of which will be found to be untrue, but others will be found to be true. These hypotheses are out there for scientists to investigate. In fact, just this morning there was an article in the newspaper that indicated researchers had proven (this will be debatable) that men are attracted to good-looking women, while women are attracted to good providers.
What would a savanna-raised primate do?