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Sexual Selection For Intelligence?

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Posted by Harvey on May 18, 2004 14:37:24 UTC

I was watching the PBS broadcast series "Evolution", and one idea that they introduced on the show was that human evolution might favor increased intelligence because it is sexually attractive for the opposite sex (i.e., sexual selection).

The problem I see with this view is that in the real world Bruno gets as many women as Popeye, and unfortunately has just as many kids. Now, maybe more Bruno kids are eaten by lions (since they aren't that bright), but that isn't sexual selection, rather it is natural selection.

A far more reasonable postulate is that the evolution of the brain is much more complex than neat categories such as sexual selection, natural selection, etc. The history of intelligence certainly extends far deep into our primate past, and the most recent events (e.g., tools) in our evolution need not be reduced to sexual selection pressures. For example, the crow has been shown to be a tool using creature given the situation, and so has the chimp. In the case of the crow, the crow has actually bent wire to accomplish its objective. So, it seems to me that intelligence is far more complex than simply summing it up to sexual selection.

What bothers me, though, is that the PBS show threw out a very hypothetical notion and provided no evidence or substance whatsoever. I found that disturbing since it misguides the public in thinking that evolutionary theories are pure conjecture - in this case, very simplistic conjecture. Bad science.

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