Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.

Dr. Christopher Bazinet, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, writes:

Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature is a book I sometimes recommend as a very readable and entertaining example of how biological factors—more specifically, evolutionary forces, may have influenced the development of our “most human” characteristic—our minds.  The complexity of our mental lives, including our experience of consciousness, introspection, and our ability to think about and anticipate the future, are often used as evidence for placing man in a special status above all other living things.  Ironically, Miller’s book makes a very interesting case for how the forces of evolution may themselves account for the exceptional capacities of the human brain—and the mind lurking within it.  He credits it to an evolutionary principle that most of us haven’t considered carefully, the theory of evolution by sexual selection.  Whereas we are all familiar with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection—the survival of the fittest leading to the propagation of their genes to the next generation—we sometimes forget that we also need to succeed at courtship in order for our genes to make the jump to another generation.  This leads to a second, perhaps more subtle but extremely powerful principle—evolution by sexual selection.  Assuming that our genes can influence our choice of mates (maybe there can be accounting for taste after all..), Miller presents an interesting argument explaining how the judicious choice of mates by early human females led to the rapid development of our mental capacities in a “runaway” process driven by positive reinforcement….that is responsible for the human brain/mind as we now know it.

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