On this journey of greater understanding, don’t expect to completely disregard science. It also has a role in understanding reality.
Understanding the actual scientific theories is all fine and dandy, but go a bit deeper: what is science’s explanation of reality? On what grounds is this explanation based?
Anyway, The Red Queen is a book about sex. No, not explaining how it works (well, actually it does at a genetic level). But it explains sex from an evolutionary standpoint, and provides explanations for humans’ behaviors based on sex’s role in evolution.
Have you ever wondered why humans and other animals have sex? It makes more sense from an evolutionary standpoint to simply reproduce asexually. After lengthy debunking of all the other evolutionary reasons, Matt Ridley comes to the Red Queen theory.
The Red Queen theory is named after the Red Queen from Alice and Wonderland. The Queen runs and runs, but reality stays still.
This is like evolution. Species evolve, but so do all the others, ultimately cancelling out all positive changes that species made.
And who is the number 1 enemy of most animals? Hint: it’s not other animals.
Bacteria, germs, viruses, the list goes on. They evolve as fast as we can find cures for them.
Sex was evolution’s primary tool in this eternal race. And that, says Ridley, is the explanation for why sex is even a thing.
The author goes on to discuss how sex has influenced culture and human nature.
From a purely evolutionary standpoint, he explains why men are naturally polygamous, but often settle for monogamy. He also explains why women are monogamous, but often commit adultery.
Most people would explain this away by human nature, but there are some really compelling arguments in here.
Something interesting for many followers of personal development would be evolution’s explanation for sexual attraction. What makes men attractive is status. For women, it’s youth and beauty.
Also, what about our intelligence compared to other species? It makes little sense from a classic survival of the fittest point of view to have a big brain because it uses a lot of energy and also having a big brain would reduce the level of maturity when one comes out of the womb, leaving the infant more dependent for a longer period of time.
Ridley argues that the reason we developed big brains was “for no other reason than that wit, virtuosity, inventiveness, and individuality turn other people on.” We developed big brains in order to read people, manipulate them, and communicate more effectively.
The author concludes that despite all that we have done as a species, we are still an ape. A very highly developed ape in terms of cognitive abilities, “but still an ape.”
Ok, enough with the scientific content. Ridley also tries to reconcile the “nature vs nurture” debate, stating that they work in tandem. He says “to the extent that we are products of the environment, it is an environment that our designed brains chose to learn from.” Our brains have certain predispositions to learning things, such as language, but the language we learn is obviously the one of our culture.
It nevertheless led me to reflect on whether science is justification for culture… To be studied further.
I won’t lie, the beginning of this book is very science-heavy, which I found draining, but after that it got interesting. The whole book I found to be quite well-researched and well-written.
Finally, I appreciate the open-mindedness of the author at the end of this book. He says that no doubt the Red Queen theory will just be another wrong theory in the quest of humanity in understanding ourselves. But all theories, nonetheless, lead to understanding.
Very well-written book, super in-depth, great for understanding evolutionary view of human nature.
“Mankind is a self-domesticated animal.”