The Fallacy Of Man The Toolmaker

When people think of Darwin, they usually remember only his first book, The Origin of Species, which was about natural selection, or differential survival. His second book, The Descent of Man, added the concept of sexual selection, or differential reproduction; Darwin thought that the evolution of the human species had a lot less than in other species to do with survival and a lot more to do with female choice. He even suggested that female sexual selection could cause the differentiation of human races, which would lead to speciation if these groups remained isolated for long enough, which in fact they never did. There were few takers, perhaps because the earlier concept of “the survival of the fittest” – and its abuse to justify robber-baron capitalism and imperialist subjugation – was far more interesting politically.

Past schoolbooks and museum exhibits assumed that evolution of the big human brain was driven by the need to invent advanced tools and weapons for killing mammoths and so forth. This perception ignores the question of whether we did, in fact, need advanced tools and weapons to survive, or whether we were doing perfectly all right on the savannah as scavengers and carrion-feeders. In fact we could have made our living on the African savannah with far less brainpower, all the other animals do; it would be cheaper, as the brain consumes a fifth of our energy resources. It has been remarked that the brain is grossly over-engineered for the purpose of making tools; something much more modest would have served as well. Moreover, the big human brain becomes a really bad idea in childbirth, so there must have been a better reason. Once the naked ape lit out for the frozen North, differential survival would certainly select for the ability of individuals or groups to make clothes and fire and all the rest of it. The question then becomes why some of the naked apes left Africa in the first place, and how much mental evolution had already been performed by that time.

More modern theories explain the evolution of the brain as driven by language and other aspects of social life, such as intra-group politicking. Only animals in a social environment can develop intelligence. This is why parrots are up there with chimps as users of language. Some of these theories are far more relevant to the sexual selection of Darwin’s second book than to the natural selection of his first. The two main answers to the purpose of the big brain are: for flirting and for lying. Except that it’s really the same answer. Geoffrey Miller, for example, has posited that the brain is a side-effect of sexual charm; that we are dealing with a phenomenon of runaway selection, a self-reinforcing feedback process. The reproductive spoils went to the males with the gift of the gab, particularly humour. This is not because females like humour for its own sake, but because humour is very heavy on the cranial processing-power and thus demonstrates a superfluity of mental acumen, which is a signal of general genetic fitness. For some strange reason Miller called this the Dionysus Effect. He should maybe have called it the Roxanne effect, after Cyrano de Bergerac’s inamorata, who lived only for hearing her beauty praised in poetry.

If we look at it from the opposite point of view, what is it about the brain of a man that would cause him not to be selected to breed the women of the tribe? One of the best ways to strike out is, and probably always was, the inability to “model” women, that is, to create a reasonably accurate and reliable mental map or working model of the female mind. Such a failure would lead to always doing and saying the wrong thing. As we all know, the sort of man who cannot construct and run such a mental model of other people often possesses great mental gifts in other directions; we call him the nerd, or in extreme cases the idiot-savant. If there were a gene for being a total dork, however, it would obviously go extinct after a generation or two, so the highly-intelligent sexual loser must be a product of embryological, environmental and/or cultural factors.

Another theory, the Machiavelli Hypothesis, suggests that the motor of mental evolution was the deceitful manipulation of others’ behaviour. Some other animals endeavour to tell lies, but they are not very good at it. Successful deception also involves “modelling” the behaviour of others, in order to know which buttons to press; it is suggested that a particular area of the brain is involved in both enterprises. Deceit is actually a very complex mental operation; one needs to create two versions of reality, and market the one while believing the other, keeping track of everything all the while; and humanity has long noted that liars need better memories than truthful people. Which may be another way of saying that truthful people are biologically inferior specimens who do not have the memory-power for successful deceit.

Big brains may, therefore, be the accidental outcome of a runaway arms race, between manipulation and the ability to see through manipulation in various marketplaces – economic, political, emotional and sexual. Put another way, the big brain is not for making tools; it is itself a tool – a tool of seduction, of cuckoldry, of two-timing, of faking orgasms and of pretending love.

If the research could be done, it would be interesting to measure the reproductive success of simple, innocent, truthful men against the reproductive success of slick, plausible, manipulating liars. To which it may be objected that if the male brain has evolved as a seduction machine, the female brain has likewise evolved as a bullshit detector; there is an arms race between the sexes. On the gripping hand, Shakespeare knew that his very best manipulative bastard, namely Iago, should take great care to seem the bluff and straightforward veteran.

The hardest parts of such a research project would be designing an experiment to detect the really good liars, then making sure that the project director isn’t one himself; and we may expect that much of the rogues’ reproductive success will be in the form of fairly undetectable illegitimate children and cuckoos in other men’s nests.

Posted on December 5, 2012 at 11:30 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: WHAT WOMEN WANT, Unethical Sexual Experiments

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