The Great Exodus
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PDF Version 19. Recognition of the significance of Mate Selection
While the explanation of how the nurturing, love-indoctrination process created humanity has received virtually no recognition since Fiske, Drummond and Hall in the 19th century, the role of mate selection has been recognised by a number of leading thinkers, both early on and in recent times. Charles Darwin in particular recognised its importance when, in 1871, he wrote The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. These words from the final chapter are particularly important: ‘He who admits the principle of sexual selection will be led to the remarkable conclusion that the nervous system not only regulates most of the existing functions of the body, but has indirectly influenced the progressive development of various bodily structures and of certain mental qualities…and these powers of the mind manifestly depend on the development of the brain.’ Darwin has recognised that to practice sexual selection of ‘certain mental qualities’ depends on ‘the development of the brain’. The inference is that sexual selection depends on the development of consciousness. In fact the need for consciousness is critical to the ability to select for the all-important ‘mental qualities’ of cooperative, selfless morality since, as will be explained in Section 25, ‘Why and how did Consciousness emerge in humans?’, recognition of selfless moral values depended on the love-indoctrination process having first liberated consciousness from blocks that exist in the minds of non-human animals that prevent recognition of the importance of cooperative selflessness and thus truthful, effective thinking and thus consciousness. Essentially, mate selection of cooperative selfless values could not occur without the nurturing, love-indoctrination process.
In more recent times, science historian Jacob Bronowski recognised the significant role played by sexual selection when, in his 1973 The Ascent of Man documentary series and book, he stated, ‘We have to explain the speed of human evolution over a matter of one, three, let us say five million years at most. That is terribly fast. Natural selection simply does not act as fast as that on animal species. We, the hominids, must have supplied a form of selection of our own; and the obvious choice is sexual selection’ (p.404 of 448).
In November 2000 I saw a 1998 documentary titled The Secret Life of the Dog about the domestication of dogs which included a description of the domestication of silver foxes for the Russian fur industry. While humans’ domestication of dogs and foxes is not the same as love-indoctrination, it does illustrate the power of self-selection to affect change, and also how development of stages of maturation are arrested by selecting for youthfulness. Attempting to explain how wolves were transformed into dogs, the documentary reported researchers postulating that ‘By choosing the cutest looking and friendliest puppies we inadvertently helped the dog evolve to be better at exploiting us.’ The commentary continued, ‘No one really knows if domestication of the dog was simply a matter of it becoming more friendly, could it really be that simple? This mystery has been solved by an astonishing 40-year long experiment on domestication. Zoologist Dr Liudmilla Trut and colleagues at an experimental farm in Central Siberia have…transformed wild silver foxes, a cousin of the dog, which…are usually aggressive and afraid of people and can’t respond to human affection…into not just a tame animal but one that actually is domesticated. To mimic evolution the experiment was simplicity itself. Only those that didn’t bite would be allowed to breed the next generation…These tame ones are the result of 40 generations but the original aggression disappeared after only three or four generations. After that the experiment tried to increase the positive reactions. After five generations they created foxes that had lost the worst of their fear and aggression, but they were still a long way from being domesticated…After 10 generations the wild fox had been transformed from a creature afraid of humans to one like the dog which craved human contact…The first physical changes happened in parallel with profound behavioural changes. It was only after the tenth generation that they began to have these physical Page 97 of
PDF Version changes [such as white markings, floppy ears and curly tails]…they finally had not just tame foxes but truly domesticated foxes. Animals that were themselves born childlike in their openness and playfulness. For wild foxes the period of friendly socialisation stops when they are two months old…In the tame foxes this friendly period never does end, they stay playful and never do become fearful. The Russian experiment had proved that simply breeding for friendliness they could tap into the deepest level of the fox’s brain, unhinging the animal’s natural adult instincts and kept it forever young, trapped in a playful childlike state’ (directed and produced by David Malone and David Paterson, Equinox, Channel 4 in assoc. with Discovery Channel; aired on ABC-TV 5 Nov. 2000).
Geoffrey Miller, an American biologist based at the University of New Mexico and author of the 2000 book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, is among a small but growing number of scientists who in very recent years have acknowledged the importance of mate selection in the development of humans’ cooperative, moral nature. The following is a quote by Miller about mate selection and its effects: ‘We think survival of the fittest couldn’t go the whole distance in accounting for human nature, and we think there must have been something else to fill that gap, and I’m saying sexual selection is what fills the gap, because it’s capable of noticing anything that we can even talk about. If I notice that somebody else has a rich consciousness and I sort of wonder, why do they have that, my capacity for noticing that contains the answer, it says, I noticed that that might influence a sexual choice I make with regard to that person, it might make them more attractive to me, and just by admitting that you’re saying that’s subject to sexual selection. We have this amazing window in to the minds and souls of other people that other animals don’t, because we have language, because we have rich social lives. And that means sexual selection has the power to reach in to these moral virtues and these spiritual interests and to shape them in a way that it couldn’t do in any other species. When I think about how sexual attraction might have worked among our ancestors, as they were sort of going through the final spurt on the way to becoming modern Homo sapiens, I tend to think of them as conspicuously displaying their capacities for sympathy and kindness, so anything that would have been sexually attractive, would have been subject to sexual choice. Sexual choice could have amplified these traits, made them more elaborate, more conspicuous, more easily displayed. It is an argument for runaway kindness in the same way that runaway sexual selection can explain the size of the peacock’s tail. In our species it explains the size of our hearts and our capacity for romantic commitment, and I think the sort of intricacy and depth of our consciousness as well’ (Testing God, Part 2, ‘Darwin and the Divine’, documentary produced by Mentorn Barraclough Carey/Channel 4, 2001). Mate selection did have a big role to play in developing a capacity ‘for runaway kindness’, however, as was emphasised above, while mate selection was a contributing force in the development of the moral ‘depth of our consciousness’ it doesn’t explain how the consciousness that is necessary for the selection of moral values developed in the first place. That depended on the nurturing, love-indoctrination process.
Importantly, in terms of the extent of the insecurity of our human condition, in an online interview titled ‘Sexual Selection and the Mind’, Miller said, ‘Over a century ago Darwin’s idea of sexual selection through mate choice [that was] published in his best book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex…this wonderful idea of female choice…that Darwin advanced hundreds of pages of evidence for…fell like a stone and was widely rejected by Victorian biologists, who refused to believe that this psychological process of female choice could be a causal force in evolution’ (www.edge.org/3rd_culture/miller/index.html). Similarly, in The Mating Mind Miller wrote of the sexual selection theory being ‘immediately attacked, mocked, reviled, and dismissed by his narrow-minded colleagues’ (p.33 of 538) when it was first put forward, before being ‘neglected for a century after Darwin’ (p.15) and that in the interim ‘historians of science…[have] written at least a thousand times as much about the discovery of natural selection as they have about the discovery of sexual selection’ (p.36). The truth is the problem was not that biologists Page 98 of
PDF Version have ‘refused to believe that this psychological process of female choice could be a causal force in evolution’—of course any mind-derived self-adjustments an animal is capable of making will effect their survival and thus the genetic make-up of their species—the real problem is clearly the extremely confronting implications for upset humans of selecting for, or favouring, the more nurtured or cooperative or integrated or ‘kind’ or ‘good’, those with more ‘sympathy’ and ‘moral virtues’, over the less nurtured or cooperative or integrated or ‘kind’ or ‘good’, those with less ‘sympathy’ and ‘moral virtues’. Any individual who isn’t ‘good’ is rejected. If this practice was implemented today, with the human race so upset and divisively behaved, it would mean the rejection of pretty well everyone. In terms of having to evade any issue that brings the fearfully depressing issue of the human condition into focus, the whole mate selection idea sails far too close to the wind and that is why the idea has a history of opposition and rejection.
The question arises, why has there been this break-out of honesty now? Has science suddenly abandoned its human-condition-avoiding mechanistic position and become honest? Not likely. This break-out of a degree of honesty coincides with the backlash to the extreme right wing, selfishness-justifying biological accounts of E.O. Wilson and others that was described in Section 16, ‘The history of biological denial’, where it was explained that a left wing movement in biology emerged that sought to emphasise selflessness and kindness. However, unlike the ideas being put forward by the left wing biologists referred to in Section 16, the idea of mate selection is not a form of dishonest pseudo idealism, rather it is a true explanation—albeit only part of the explanation—for our moral sense. The similarity lies in the fact that while the human condition isn’t being denied with dishonest biological explanations, it is still not being properly confronted, as was pointed out in the previous paragraph. The acknowledgment of the importance of mate selection that is occurring is more an accident of honesty. As a result of trying to recognise selflessness and kindness a slip up has occurred in mechanistic science’s maintenance of denial of any ideas that bring the issue of the human condition too clearly into focus. This assessment doesn’t apply to Charles Darwin who was obviously an exceptionally fearless/ truthful/ prophetic thinker, but the evidence is that it does apply to this current movement to acknowledge the role played by mate selection in the formation of our moral sense.