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Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Relationship between Sexual Selection, Intelligence and Art

Look at the human: a comparatively dull-looking, weak being. No colour, no tusks, no nothing. But look again, and you will see the tanks, works of art, fashion, music, superior communication, and the artificial environments.

Nature might have taken a gamble when physical strength was selected second to a growing brain and intelligence. The gamble certainly paid off, humans don't need strength, we have guns and walls, humans don't need colours, we have dyes and clothes (that inadvertently rhymes!). So we experience, and have experienced, much fewer natural selection pressures and responses, and more artificial responses. For example, although the natural selection pressure of cold weather resulted in a thick fur in polar bears, and therefore turned into a sexual selection pressure due to furry polar bears surviving for longer, the same natural selection pressure resulted in a completely different adaptation for Eskimos - building igloos and shooting bears.

In fact, human intelligence seems to be at the root of almost all alternative adaptations. Why so successful? Because intelligence acts fast. It takes long for natural selection to get rid of ill-adapted life, and it's a fairly rudimentary, basic process. The development of a thick fur over generations in the case of humans is a ridiculous solution, when all it takes is shooting a bear to wear its fur. The same applied in the distant past, when using an arrow to kill prey proved a lot more successful than chasing it endlessly and risking death. Natural selection in this case is closely connected to sexual selection. Of course everyone wanted to promote the quality of intelligence, as it resulted in better prospects for future generations. The intelligent humans came on top, they were picked for mating, so passed on their genes and behaviours. It can be said that the quality of intelligence promotes itself, because those who choose not to promote it are left behind, so in fact, we don't decide that intelligence is worth keeping, but intelligence decides whether we ourselves are worth keeping.

The development of language and communication in humans can be seen as the most crucial result of intelligence, and the beginning of our artificial universe: letters, words, drawings, music. They are codes between humans, that all humans in a population understand; however, that was not always the case, and naturally only those who took part in the communication process were selected for. Nowadays, the same is still true - there are many languages that most people do not understand, music genres that divide populations and households, and forms of art so many that cannot be remembered. They are artificial expressions central to sexual selection. Which one will come on top?

Humans' sexual selection has shifted very much from the natural, self-propagation mode which is limited to reproduction, to the artificial self-propagation mode which is virtually unlimited. What is artificial self-propagation? Laughing at someone's joke. It may make you want to have babies with them, but in all honesty you won't. Buying something. You don't want to mate with the producer, you might not even care whether the product will stop selling. It could be a handbag or a new phone. The basic instinct drives you towards them, because you feel buying them, making them yours, promotes them. Good for the present, good for the future. Makes you better.

Intelligence is such a core property of ours, that we don't even realise it. The intelligence to manipulate someone, to be a good actor, to do maths. The intelligence to tap into someone's instincts, to make them want you. Wanting to have sex with someone you fancy. Why is that instinct so strong, despite the definite self-assurance that you don't want a child, or you cannot have a child?

How has our intelligence influenced our sex drive? Find out in the next post about Intelligence and our Sex Drive.

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