Science: The Fine Art of Sexual Conquest ; It May Be True That a Man's Brain Is in His Trousers. Attracting the Opposite Sex, Say Experts, Depends on How Clever and Artistic You Are
Sanjida O'Connell, The Independent (London, England)
Picasso joked that he painted with his penis. He died a wealthy man: his estate was worth $1bn. In his lifetime he created 14,000 paintings, 34,000 book illustrations, and 100,000 prints and engravings. He found time to father a child with his first wife, another with his mistress, and two with his second mistress. According to Geoffrey Miller, it is no surprise that one of the 20th century's greatest artists had a way with women.
Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at University College London, believes that the products of the human mind - from fine art to fine conversation - are inextricably linked with sexual conquest. "Evolution is more than the survival of the fittest," says Dr Miller. "Our ancestors had to do more than find food, they had to attract mates, and if they weren't able to attract mates, they didn't pass on their genes." This drive to be sexually alluring to the opposite sex led to the creation of more sophisticated sexual ornaments, which meant bigger brains to perform the increasingly complex mental tasks involved in artistic foreplay.
Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection explains how animals evolved: only those that were well adapted to their environment survived to pass on their traits to their offspring. However, Darwin had a hard time explaining how natural selection could produce the human brain and its intellectual spin-offs. Some scientists have postulated that we needed a large brain to survive; once our brains reached a certain size, other abilities arose as a by-product of this level of complexity. Miller argues that this is a weak answer: "It fails to explain why other large-brained species such as dolphins, whales and elephants did not invent paleontology or socialism." Darwin developed the theory of sexual selection to explain the evolution of certain "non beneficial" traits, such as the peacock's tail.
Miller argues that it could also explain the intellectual abilities of the large human brain. Sexual selection relies on the fact that most females choose the males they want to mate with, and it is female choice which has led to traits as seemingly maladaptive as the peacock's tail. Miller's "mating mind" hypothesis - outlined in a book of the same name published this week - is that the human brain is a sexual ornament as bright and brash as a peacock's tail.
Brains are complex and costly: they take a long time to grow and consume almost a quarter of our total daily intake of energy. "Every sexual ornament in every sexually reproducing species could be viewed as a different style of waste... male elephant seals waste a thousand pounds of their fat per breeding season fighting other elephant seals," Miller says. "Male humans waste their time and energy getting graduate degrees, writing books, playing sports, fighting other men, painting pictures, playing jazz and founding religious cults. These may not be conscious sexual strategies, but the underlying motivations for `achievement' and `status' - even in preference to material sources - were probably shaped by sexual selection," he says.
The peacock's tail and the overlarge human brain may not be such a waste of energy as they first seem. In the Seventies, an Israeli scientist, Amotz Zahavi, developed the handicap hypothesis in an attempt to explain why it is no bad thing for a female peacock to be attracted by a peacock's tail - which has no survival advantages. He argued that the tail is a handicap - it prevents males from escaping predators easily. The long tail could be advertising how fit and healthy the peacock is since a fit peacock will be able to escape from predators in spite of his tail.
Recent research suggests that the peacock is also displaying what good condition he is in, for only a bird with few parasites and a healthy immune system could sport a vibrant tail. Miller argues that the same may be true for the by-products of our brains. …