EDGE: Where do you see your work going in the next few years?

MILLER: It's fine to talk about all these just-so stories, these evolutionary hypotheses, about why this evolved, why that evolved. Evolutionary psychology is getting much more sophisticated about the methods it uses, experiments and observations, to test some of these theories; the wonderful thing about mate choice is that there are already a large number of methods that biologists use routinely to study animal mate choice that are just starting to be applied to human mate choice. But equally important, there are a lot of methods for studying these courtship displays themselves—to see whether their features and how do their features indicate the quality of the person producing them.

What I want to do next is really try to cash out my hypotheses about art and music and language and ideology as courtship displays, to see do they really have the necessary features to really indicate the things about a sexual prospect that need indicating. This is going to require basically measuring lots of correlations—seeing is vocabulary size really a good indicator of intelligence? Is it a costly display that indicates your quality? Is it noticed, do people pay attention to it? The reason why I'm trying to get my ideas better known in evolutionary psychology and amongst the general public now is that testing big hypotheses like this is too large a job for any one individual to do—it requires cooperation between dozens or hundreds of people. It took one person to think up Darwin's sexual selection idea, but it took hundreds and hundreds of theorists and animal experimenters to actually show that his theory works.The same is true of trying to apply Darwin's sexual selection ideas to understand human nature.

EDGE: What biologists are at odds with your set of ideas?

MILLER: Unfortunately there are a great number of biologists who shy away from applying evolutionary theory to the human mind. A large part of it is a failure of nerves—that they're comfortable getting grants to do research on animals, and those grants might be threatened or compromised if the public understood that the theory that they're using for animals applies equally for humans, and have some challenging and thought—provoking indications for humans. It's very comfortable for biologists like Stephen Jay Gould, or Steven Rose, to write about evolution in general and animals in general but to draw a line around the human mind and try to keep it immune to analysis, try to keep it essentially outside the domain of science itself.

I'm a believer in the unity of science, I don't believe there should be any artificial boundaries drawn around anything. I'm interested in pushing evolutionary theory absolutely as far as it can go into the deepest recesses of the mind, into consciousness, and intimacy and romance, and our self-concept, and things that really matter to us. I'm also interested in pushing it into domains like intelligence that might be politically explosive but are extremely socially important.

It's time we grow up; it's time to face the music and to confront these issues. There's never been a time before when as many people are reading popular science, or watching science television, or expressing an interest in science, and when the sophistication of public understanding is really taking off now. People are ready to confront these, and it's patronizing for some biologist with a vested interest in intellectual status quo to try to keep the human mind out of bounds, to try to keep it outside science.

EDGE: Status quo?

MILLER: Science is interesting—it's powerful at what it does, but people credit it with far too much ideological importance. Basically people believe what they want to believe politically. There's even evidence from behavior genetics that mostly people's political ideologies are genetically inheritable. Whatever context you grow up in, to some extent the kinds of attitudes and beliefs you have about political issues and social issues, does not seem terribly much affected by the intellectual environment that you're exposed to—people pick up the ideas that fit with their preconceptions and they reject those that don't. It's a great mistake to credit science with too much importance in shaping people's attitudes towards other people, towards government policy, towards social priorities—once you know what social priorities you want to pursue, science is very helpful in suggesting effective ways of pursuing them. But it's a great mistake to confuse science with ideology. Ideologues always pick up whatever science looks like it will fit their cause and they distort it and present it and support it and they'll try to use it to convince others, but that doesn't mean that scientists should go around trying to censor themselves for fear that their ideas will be picked up and used by the wrong people. The wrong people always pick up and use any ideas they want in the wrong way. There are so many ideas out there anyway that good people can already do good with the ideas at hand and evil people can do evil with the ideas at hand.

Let's take one rather provocative piece of research. There's some evidence from behavior genetics now, some evidence, not a lot, but a little bit, that happiness itself is somewhat inheritable. If you're extremely reactionary and conservative you could say Ah! See, we can't do anything for people, they'll just be happy or not as they see fit; there's no point in trying to improve people's lives. On the other hand you could be a radical socialist and you could take this as a profound critique of capitalist consumerism—you could say people have been duped into believing that the more stuff they acquire the happier they'll be. That is empirically not the case. You could take it either direction. You could also just say well, pragmatically speaking, if you want happy kids, marry somebody happy. Any different scientific discovery can be taken in a thousand different ideological directions for a thousand different purposes.


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