Sexual Selection to Explain Human Intelligence

Even if the survivalist theory could take us from the world of natural history to our capacities for invention, commerce, and knowledge, it cannot account for the more ornamental and enjoyable aspects of human culture: art, music, sports, drama, comedy, and political ideals. At this point the survivalist theories usually point out that along the transverse lies the Central Park Learning Center. Perhaps the ornamental frosting on culture's cake arose through a general human ability to learn new things. Perhaps our big brains, evolved for technophilic survivalism, can be co-opted for the arts. However, this side-effect view is equally unsatisfying. Temperamentally, it reflects nothing more than a Wall Street trader's contempt for leisure. Biologically, it predicts that other big-brained species like elephants and dolphins should have invented their own versions of the human arts. Psychologically, it fails to explain why it is so much harder for us to learn mathematics than music, surgery than sports, and rational science than religious myth.

I think we can do better. We do not have to pretend that everything interesting and enjoyable about human behavior is a side-effect of some utilitarian survival ability or general learning capacity. I take my inspiration not from the Central Park Learning Center on the north side of the transverse but from the Ramble on the south side. The Ramble is a 37-acre woodland hosting 250 species of birds. Every spring, they sing to attract sexual partners. Their intricate songs evolved for courtship. Could some of our puzzling human abilities have evolved for the same function?


The human mind and the peacock's tail may serve similar biological functions. The peacock's tail is the classic example of sexual selection through mate choice. It evolved because peahens preferred larger, more colorful tails. Peacocks would survive better with shorter, lighter, drabber tails. But the sexual choices of peahens have made peacocks evolve big, bright plumage that takes energy to grow and time to preen, and makes it harder to escape from predators such as tigers. The peacock's tail evolved through mate choice. Its biological function is to attract peahens. The radial arrangement of its yard-long feathers, with their iridescent blue and bronze eye-spots and their rattling movement, can be explained scientifically only if one understands that function. The tail makes no sense as an adaptation for survival, but it makes perfect sense as an adaptation for courtship.


I do not think that natural selection for survival can explain the human mind. Our minds are entertaining, intelligent, creative, and articulate far beyond the demands of surviving on the plains of Pleistocene Africa. To me, this points to the work of some intelligent force and some active designer. However, I think the active designers were our ancestors, using their powers of sexual choice to influence—unconsciously—what kind of offspring they produced. By intelligently choosing their sexual partners for their mental abilities, our ancestors became the intelligent force behind the human mind's evolution.


Human intelligence goes too far and is too artistically-bent, rather than scientifically-bent, to have evolved for survival alone. We should entertain the possibility that our big brains evolved for the same reasons peacocks have ornate tails.

Folksonomies: sexual selection mating

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Charles Darwin (0.945318): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Psychology (0.823918): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Natural selection (0.741617): dbpedia | freebase
Evolutionary psychology (0.724252): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Alfred Russel Wallace (0.675141): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Selection (0.596416): dbpedia | freebase
Thought (0.591726): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Human behavior (0.587672): dbpedia | freebase

 The Mating Mind
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Miller, Geoffrey (2011-12-21), The Mating Mind, Random House Digital, Inc., Retrieved on 2013-06-24
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: evolution science sexual selection