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How Big Is Your Sexual Ornament?

According to Geoffrey Miller, author of The Mating Mind, in evolutionary terms, the mind “… makes most sense as an entertainment system designed to stimulate other brains …” (p. 155) … but what is he referring to?

Well all species develop what are called ‘sexual ornaments’ to display their fitness as a mate.  Take a peacock for example.  His elaborate display of feathers is a sexual ornament which demonstrates the health of his body and, by implication, his genes.

There are a couple of features to sexual ornaments worth mentioning.  First of all they display fitness because they invest excess resources in order to develop them.  If our male peacock was ill or unable to forage successfully, his plumage would not be so symmetrical or ornate.  He would be using all the resources he had available simply to survive.  So a sexual ornament, in evolutionary terms, demonstrates fitness over and above that which is simply needed to survive.

Second, it is usually the males who develop the most ornate sexual ornaments in order to attract the females to mate with.  In biology, the males are ‘the salesmen’ and females ‘sales resistant’.  But surely this is not true in humans? Think again.

Well according to Miller this might indeed be the case.  In fact it could be argued that the human mind itself is a sexual ornament designed simply for the seduction of a mate.  With the human mind we have the capacity to go beyond simple physical sensory appeal.  Our brains work with ideas and concepts, things that could, if developed, be used to display sexual fitness as a sexual ornament.

If you are struggling to survive you may have fewer spare resources available for the development of the intellect.  A man, who has the leisure to develop his interests, creativity and compete in a wide variety of activities, is demonstrating his excess of resources.  It is argued that such abilities and capacities can, in themselves, be seen as the human male equivalent of the peacock’s feathers.  Our minds, in other words, are there to develop and woo the opposite sex with a dazzling demonstration of competence in the higher pursuits.  Some activities perhaps, like being a pop musician, sportsman, or even stand up comedian, attract more competition from males for this reason.

So if I ask ‘how big is your sexual ornamentation’, don’t necessarily think below the belt, or size of your muscles, think of your successes in business, your profession, the arts, and even how you tell a joke or sing a song.  In evolutionary terms, the art of courtship in humans goes much further than the body beautiful.  In fact it can quickly transcend it.  Which is perhaps why good looking men develop no personality, and the best stand up comedians look like clowns?

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