Geoffrey F. Miller is senior research fellow at the Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution at University College, London. Born in 1965 in Cincinnati, he studied at Columbia University and received a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Stanford University. After moving to Europe, he worked at the Universities of Sussex and Nottingham and at the Max Planck Institute of Psychological Research in Munich. He lives in Surrey with his family.
The booming but controversial field of evolutionary psychology attempts to explain human feelings and behaviors as consequences of natural selection, using plausible analogies from the animal kingdom to show (for example) why we have the capacity to enjoy music, or why men commit violent crimes. Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at University College-London, argues that much of human character and culture arose for the same reason peacocks have beautiful tails: mating purposes. A peacock that can find enough to eat and avoid being eaten despite such an enormous appendage must have very good genes; by displaying its tail, then, a peacock displays its potential to be a good mate. Miller looks at several kinds of sexual selection. "Romantic" behavior like the making of complex art wouldn't have helped our ancestors find more food or avoid predators. It might, however, have helped display the fitness of proto-men for the proto-women with whom they wanted to mate--and vice versa. If we like to show off our large vocabularies, it's at least in part because our ancestors sought smart partners. Miller's enjoyable book also surveys animal kingdom parallels and recent theoretical arguments about sexual selection. Like most popular evolutionary psychologists, however, Miller doesn't always distinguish between a plausible story and a scientifically testable hypothesis. And some of his arguments seem covertly circular, or self-serving: Do we really need Darwin to explain why men publish more books than women? Still, picturing "the human brain as an entertainment system that evolved to stimulate other brains," Miller provides an articulate and memorable case for the role of sexual selection in determining human behaviors. Agent, John Brockman. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Miller (senior research fellow, Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution, Univ. Coll., London) here argues that the human mind and human behaviorDincluding language and moralityDhave evolved in part as a result of mating choices made by our hominid ancestors over millions of years. In addition to natural selection, he stresses reproductive adaptations through sexual selection that have emerged in physical traits to distinguish our unique bipedal species from the quadrupedal great apes. His analysis pays special attention to ornamentation, courtship displays, group leadership, and aesthetic creativity as heritable fitness indicators. Miller is to be commended for his frank and learned focus on those sexual aspects of human nature that have enhanced the evolutionary success of our species in terms of both physical characteristics and social patterns. This fascinating and provocative contribution to understanding human sexuality is highly recommended for all large science collections.DH. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
"Quite ingenious stuff.... This is a welcome change from a lot of evolutionary psychology."-The New York Times Book Review