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THE REALITY CLUB
Animal Minds
A Talk With Marc D. Hauser


Pamela McCorduck on Animal Minds by Marc D. Hauser


From: Pamela McCorduck
Date 4-21-99

Marc Hauser's interview was both a delight and provocative. His work with animals makes fresh approaches to some of the most vexing questions facing the field of human cognition and for that, it was a joy to read.

However, I'm puzzled by what he calls Natalie Angier's misunderstanding of evolutionary psychology based on the basic biology that leads to sexual promiscuity in humans, what Hauser calls "a nasty asymmetry" — that sperm are cheap to produce and eggs are expensive, and that therefore men have the freedom to be promiscuous (it's cheap), and women do not (it's costly).

Does Hauser — do evolutionary biologists or psychologists — impute to humans some instinct that has told us about this cheap/costly ratio (real evidence of which must have come very recently indeed in our evolution)? Is it that hence we have selected for females "naturally" choosing monogamy, and males "naturally" choosing promiscuity?

It's possible, I suppose — we've certainly heard the argument ad infinitum from guys who ought to know — but I take Angier's point to be that other interpretations of our mating patterns are at least as plausible. These alternative interpretations have the advantage of not confusing libido with procreation (connected of course, but by no means the same thing); nor confusing science with the social convenience of the long-dominant sex. In short, right or wrong, Angier brings to that particular issue the same kind of fresh and persuasive thinking that Hauser brings to cognition, and I'm surprised he doesn't see that.


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