Monday, February 7, 2011

Sex, Psyche and Evolution: Absent-Minded Science, Part V

“The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” Charles Darwin

Most people now realize that sexual attraction is in the mind, even though we often forget this insight in practice. The growth of phone sex and online sex is testament to the ability of imagination to titillate as much or more than actual human contact. And the presence of pornography in all cultures throughout history is an ongoing reminder that people can be turned on by the strangest things and certainly don’t need a live human being for this purpose.

There is a much deeper principle at work here, however; one that is highly relevant to this series of essays on “absent-minded science” (which is what I call the modern habit in a number of different fields of expelling mind from legitimate scientific explanations). Sex is central to human existence and other animals. But its centrality extends far beyond the animal world. This is the key theme of this fifth installment of this series.

Why is sex so central to our lives? The facile answer is that it’s because we need sex to reproduce. But this is only partly true. Many species reproduce without sex, including some complex vertebrates like lizards and fish. So why do we have sex? No one really knows the answer to this question, but there are many theories. I won’t delve much into why our species reproduces sexually; rather, I’m going to delve into what sex is, as a general principle, and the role of sex in evolution.

Read the rest here or here.

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