Some time ago I wrote about Geoffrey Miller’s brilliant thesis that we adorn ourselves with consumer products, ideologies and religious beliefs that allow us to best display our personality traits as detailed in the Big Five model. This means we try show off our degree of Open-mindedness, Consciousness, Extraversion, Emotional Stability and Agreeableness by our choice of conversation topics, body and home decorations and attendances at religious and secular groups (among many other strange things we do). He further argues that these displays are unique to the human species and are a huge part of what made us evolve our intelligence, sense of humour and other physical and mental characteristics that make us different from our closest animal relatives. These came about through sexual selection, which is usually overlooked or denied as a significant factor in human evolution.
My last post covered Geoffrey Miller’s first book. I summarised his theory that most of the traits that make the human species unique (be it complex language, sense of humour or religious belief) have evolved due to us trying to show off certain qualities to potential mates, leading to sexual selection for those traits. Although what follows is written to be stand alone, you will get more from this post if you read that first, don’t worry I can wait.
In his second book Miller takes what he established about how our minds developed for sexual selection in the past and applies the consequences of this theory for modern society. In particular he looks at what this means for consumerism and develops new theories, as with his first theory the sheer range and amount of human behaviour that these explain and predict is staggering. In my second of this pair of posts I will explore some of these aspects of humanity, as always I will concentrate mostly on what this means for my proposal for a spiritual materialism, but I’m so taken with some of the ideas on display I cast my net more widely than often before. I hope you are equally inspired by at least the potential if not my interpretations, and if not, please, I beg your indulgence.
One of the biggest questions in evolution, and one of the biggest challenges thrown at materialists by believers in a creator, is what makes human’s different from other animals and how can these be explained by natural processes? Over the next two posts I will discuss the works of Geoffrey Miller, who has come up with an overwhelmingly strong answer. Here I give an overview of his first book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature where he sets out the theory of how we have come to be what we are.
In the follow up I will discuss his second book Must-Have, which explores what this means for modern society and I will look at what these theories mean for my philosophy of Spiritual Materialism. If I have done Miller’s central tenets any justice in my two unfairly brief summaries you will hopefully be as convinced of their merits as very strong scientific theories for their ability to explain so much of what we see, without conflicting with what we know, about human psychology and evolution, and making a vast number of testable predictions. Unfortunately I don’t have the space to present the evidence Miller does for his proposals, you will have to refer to the original works for that.
(There is also a healthy amount of educated speculation based on what we do know, both from myself and Miller, this is included to spark discussion rather than because I am convinced of their certainty.)
Miller’s first wide reaching theory sets out to explain what we see as our uniquely human mental traits (and one or two physical ones too) and thereby very thoroughly covers almost all male and female desires, intentions, interactions and differences. The crux of his theory is that those uniquely human mental qualities; academic intelligence, reasoning, artistic abilities, empathy, humour and ideology, may have developed through evolution of sexually selected traits. Continue reading
My posts generally revolve around my own arguments that I’ve developed for spiritually without belief in a spiritual realm; I’ve done little justice to the fact that this conversation is happening throughout many non-believing communities.
A nice example is this piece by Jennifer Kalmanson of the American Humanist Association on Congregational Humanism.
Several people have questioned me on using the word ‘spiritual’. They remark it is nonsensical or confusing, that even if they understand my use of it in the term Spiritual Materialism, that it will cause confusion for others and I’m doing myself a disservice. This is something I worry about, that passers by on my blog will see ‘Spiritual’ and neglect ‘Materialism’, thinking it is yet another site promoting groundless woo or pseudoscientific babble. Also, it risks falling into the ‘spiritual but not religious’ category, which seems to be disliked by both the religious and non-believers, used mostly as an accusation or accompanied with a roll of the eyes.
I use the word ‘spiritual’ for two main reasons. Continue reading
I’ve recently discovered Dan Fincke’s Camels with Hammers blog, which is very much on the same page as me. Here’s a lovely exchange about how atheists can be religious without compromising their materialism and how different people react to this. As a response to a personal plea it covers things from a more personal angle than I often do, and even the things I do discuss are put in better words than I can manage.
– The Spiritual Materialist
One of my favourite things about Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is that he devotes a chapter on difficulties on the theory, another favourite thing is that their have been few objections since that aren’t found already predicted by him.
Following him I won’t just publish things that support Spiritual Materialism on this blog, but also things that don’t. Whether to argue against them or simply admit I have problems. Here are a couple I’ve come across in the past week.