124 of 151 people found the following review helpful
A Literary Masterpiece
, April 24, 2000
This review is from: The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature (Hardcover)
Geoffrey Miller is a wonderful writer, fully in command of the theory and evidence in evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and animal behavior. He is also widely read in the arts and popular culture. He has a fertile imagination and a creative bent that makes reading his ideas a real pleasure. This book is, as they say, "a good read."
But is it correct? Miller tries to explain the mystery of human intellect and creativity. Why would a creature (us) who evolved under the most primitive of material conditions, who lacked even sedentary agriculture until 10,000 years ago, have evolved the mental capacity for beauty, wit, rhythm, and truth? His answer is: sexual (as opposed to survival) selection. In short we are smart and talented because women preferred to mate with smart and talented men.
There is a problem, however. There are two theories of sexual selection: runaway selection (associated with Darwin and Ronald Fisher), and the handicap principle (Zahavi). Most of Miller's arguments require the former (although he formally disavows this early in the book), while the latter is probably the only plausible model of sexual selection.
For instance, the idea that we have large brains because women prefer intelligent men, even if intelligence imposes a fitness cost on men, is plausible only if intelligence is a signal of a superior fitness in some other hidden area (e.g., a lower parasite load). But I cannot think of one such area, nor does Miller supply one. Intelligence may have direct fitness benefits for humans, but that is NOT sexual selection, but straightforward selection for survivability.
In short, I think Miller is wrong, and I know there is no quantitative evidence for his 'just-so story,' but I loved the book anyway.
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