The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Inquire about purchasing the book | Table of Contents | Annotated Bibliography | Class on Nature of Mind

These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Mind As A Sexual Organ

The US evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller believes that natural selection per se cannot account for the sophistication of the human mind. He thinks that an extra force must have been at work. That force is the combined effect of sexual choices that our ancestors made. They helped design us as we are today.

Miller views the human mind not as a problem solver, but as a "sexual ornament". Miller points to the fact that the human brain's creative intelligence must exist for a purpose, and that purpose is not obvious. Survival in the environment does not quite require the sophistication of Einstein's science or Michelangelo's paintings or Beethoven's symphonies. On the other hand, these are precisely the kind of things that the human brain does a lot better than other animal brains.

The human brain is much more powerful than it needs to be.

Miller explains the emergence of art, science and philosophy by thinking not in terms of survival benefits but in terms of reproductive benefits. Miller basically separates (as Darwin originally did) natural selection (competition for survival) and sexual selection (competition for reproduction). Then Miller argues that sexual selection is much more efficient and intelligent, because it is not driven by random environmental events but by a deliberate strategy to improve the "genetic quality of the offspring".

Sexual selection is as intelligent as we are, whereas natural selection (from the viewpoint of human self-interest) is hardly intelligent at all (it does not intentionally reward humans over other species, or one individual over other individuals).

Sexual selection is a form of positive feedback (as Ronald Fisher had already showed in 1930), the kind of process that can explain the explosive growth of the human brain.

Miller argues that a fundamental function of the human mind is to display one's fitness to the other sex. As Darwin originally proposed, sexual selection originated from two parallel and interacting processes: men compete for women, and women choose men. Thus bulls have horns (to fight other bulls) and peacocks have tails (to attract women): these are organs that serve no other function. They evolved because of sexual selection. As Ronald Fisher had already showed, sexual selection can rapidly lead to evolution of sexually-relevant traits in animals: as females get pickier, they pick more attractive males, thus making children that are more attractive and who will therefore make more children. Evolution favors both pickier females and more attractive males. Thus the ornaments of several male animals evolved. This cycle continues (spirals up) until the ornaments become counterproductive to the other selection process, natural selection.

Men had to be accepted by women in order to make children. We are the descendants of those who were "sexually selected". Miller believes that sexual selection was based on activities such as painting, singing and dancing (which, in turn, explains why humans paint, sing and dance). Miller shows that each of these activities turns out to be a good indicator of physical and mental fitness, that women recognize, evaluate and reward with sex. Birds do the same when they sing complex melodies, and fruit flies do the same when they perform complex dances. These are all activities that appear to serve no survival purpose but appear to contribute to reproductive success. Males need to advertise their genes, and this need drives innovation.

Artistic activities developed because they contributed to sexual selection. When language appeared, it allowed thought itself to be used for sexual selection. The growing importance of thought for sexual selection drove, in turn, the evolution of language. Sexual selection has slowly shifted from body to mind.


Back to the beginning of the chapter "Altruism" | Back to the index of all chapters