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123 of 150 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Literary Masterpiece, April 24, 2000
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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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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 21, 2008 11:32:29 AM PST
"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."

I believe that Miller eloquently makes that case that larger brains do not necessarily need to lead to any survivability benefit. Runaway selection may be arbitrary in nature. Furthermore, one's inability to think of this survival benefit does not mean there is an absence of it.

Posted on Dec 29, 2008 3:14:44 PM PST
"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."

It seems that you're simply begging the question by assuming that the runaway selection model is incorrect without providing any supporting evidence. You offer a good caution to potential readers, even if it is overstated.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2009 1:01:04 PM PST
Why don't you just ask for references, rather than making the incorrect assertion that I am "begging the question." Geez....
At any rate, I dicuss the issue in my book, Game Theory Evolving (Princeton, 2000). More recent contributions include Eshel, I. et al. (2002) A long-term genetic model for the evolution of sexual preference: the theories of Fisher and Zahavi re-examined. J. Math. Biol. 45, 1-25; and Kokko, H. et al. (2002) The sexual selection continuum. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 269, 1331-1340

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2011 5:56:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 24, 2011 5:57:47 PM PDT
O Otvos says:
You guys crack me up. As a smart guy who can McGyver things, women are impressed. As one French lady said "You can put up weeth a lot in a man if he can feex tings!"

I use my intelligence to do that. It's not romantic, but it certainly got me the mother of my kid. He can feex tings too.

Posted on May 7, 2014 8:46:39 AM PDT
M. Jacobs says:
The Passionate Ape by Craig Hagstrom contends that, after being wooed by man's guile and intelligence whilst in the water, where physical shows of prowess are much less effective, humans eventually returned to land. After that, women now prefer stupid men who are tough and physical rather than smart and intellectual. Seems to be borne out by modern society!
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