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The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature Paperback – April 17, 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038549517X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495172
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rupesh Verma on July 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
Geoffrey Miller is probably the handsomest evolutionary psychologist in the business, which may be (or, then again, may not be) why he chose to concentrate on the neglected topic of sexual selection. This updating of Darwin's "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex" is tons of fun to read, and seems to authoritatively answer a lot of the questions about why art exists that Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works" tended to gloss over. (Short answer: cuz chicks dig it).
However, anyone familiar with Darwin's book will note that Miller prudently left out one of the "The Descent of Man's" major themes: how sexual selection leads to differences among the races. As a young man starting out, Miller can be forgiven for not touching that huge taboo, but as his reputation solidifies, we can only hope that he returns to the crucial question of human biodiversity.
I also look forward to his future writings on IQ. He is one of the few evolutionary psychologists (who study human universals) who is also a behavioral geneticist (who study human differences). We're desperately in need of somebody who can synthesize the two fields. Miller has the talent, and hopefully he can muster the courage to shatter the Tooby-Cosmides party line that thinking about human differences is evil, or boring, or just not done in polite society, or whatever their latest reason is.
Despite these missing pieces, "The Mating Mind" is an impressive launch to what should be an impressive career.
Steve Sailer -- President, Human Biodiversity Institute ---
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