Re: The Mating Mind

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Thu Jun 08 2000 - 22:57:59 MDT

At 09:34 AM 8/06/00 -0400, Robin wrote:

>I just finished reading "The Mating Mind", by Geoffrey Miller.
>I just submitted a review to (my first there), giving
>it five stars, and titled "He's asking all the right questions"

I don't recall if I posted this previously, but here are some far less
exact, but equally enthusiastic, brief comments in praise of Miller, and
mentioning some adjacent books:

The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature
Geoffrey Miller

In a charmingly clever book, Miller argues that charm and cleverness are no
mere froth on Darwin's cappuccino, but actually the motive power behind
human distinctiveness. We've evolved song, art, sport, jokes and skiing as
part of a non-stop courtship repertoire. Women's sexual choices over
100,000 years and more have shaped men, including the much-reviled penis,
and their own choosy and reluctant clitoris. Both sexes built intelligence
out of millennia of cries and whispers: `the mind evolved by moonlight'. It
sounds glib but Miller mounts a handsome and enticing argument.

Dear Mr Darwin: Letters on the Evolution of Life and Human Nature
Gabriel Dover, W&N/Dent,

At a far extreme from the subtle glances and sighs of sexual selection,
molecular chemistry reveals a dizzying realm of genetic shenanigans. Are
`selfish genes' engaged in endless contest and grudging cooperation, or is
life more than molecules red in tooth and claw? Leicester genetics
professor Dover popularises a fresh and challenging idea (18 years after he
proposed it in the specialist literature). `Molecular drive' happens when
small mutations literally jump around the chromosomes, spread swiftly by
`adoptation', and colonise an entire genome, even leaping between species.
        In a bold move that's either engaging or cheesy, the book is a
correspondence between Gabby Dover and the ghost of Charles Darwin. Clear
and sometimes lyrical, he argues passionately that we idiosyncratic
individuals, not the swarms of genes whose unique interactions help build
us, are the key to evolutionary selection.

The Second Creation: The Age of Biological Control by the Scientists who
Cloned Dolly
Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell and Colin Tudge
Hodder Headline,

Has the individual a future now nuclear cloning is an industrial process?
Already Dolly the sheep, cloned by Wilmut and Campbell at Roslin Institute
from a dead ewe's udder tissue, has her own daughter. Other species are
being cloned - although not yet humans. Tudge reworks the scientists?
accounts into a slightly stodgy saga of skill and ethics.
        So will identical babies be die-stamped out in cold laboratories? Hardly.
Four rams cloned from the same embryo - Cedric, Cyril, Cecil and Tuppence -
`are very different in size and temperament'. (It is not made clear if they
all dote on musicals.) Diversity among clones shouldn't be a shock.
Canada's famous Dionne quins were a natural clone, raised identically, yet
they varied a lot. One died at 20, another at 36, while the rest lived into
rather gloomy old age.
        The real value of cloning is the control it gives over cell lines, the
space opened for precise genetic modifications. Will that affect humans?
Surely, but don't expect cloning to become a fashion statement.

Brave New Worlds: Genetics and the Human Experience
Bryan Appleyard

Appleyard, an articulate British pundit, is scared witless by cloning and
other genomic advances, and the eugenic agenda he spies behind genetic
engineering. Surprisingly, his short book provides a deft, accurate summary
of the state of play. Unlike some conservatives, he sees that seemingly
far-fetched applications - physical immortality, enhanced intelligence -
are actually very plausible indeed.
        Still, many of his anxieties derive from his fear that scientists think
they're right about everything. Yet to a quite remarkable extent science is
a culture devoted to novel challenges. Dover and Miller or Dawkins, say,
share a public method for adjudicating their differences. A curiously Old
Testament thunder rolls behind Appleyard's measured words: thou shalt have
no other gods. It's an odd affliction in someone bemoaning the arrogance of

[this was published in a magazine for a middle-brow business audience in Oz]

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:12:57 MDT