Why do we do what we do? Especially those seemingly inexplicable behaviors—from the disreputable to the downright despicable?
Between what can be learned from evolutionary psychology (thinking that has developed in our species over the millennia to ensure its propagation) and cognitive science (how our minds literally think) a picture emerges. In Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick fuses these two fields to create a coherent story of human nature.
In his analysis, many ingrained, apparently irrational behaviors—one-night stands, prejudice, conspicuous consumption, even art and religious devotion—are quite explicable and (when desired) avoidable. When combined with insights from complexity theory, Kenrick’s argument reveals how simple mechanisms give rise to complex life.
Through an engaging blend of anecdote, analogy, and research findings, Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life takes listeners on a singular tour of the human mind, exploring the pitfalls and promises of our biological inheritance.
©2011 Original material © 2011 Douglas T. Kenrick. Recorded by arrangement with Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. (P)2011 HighBridge Company
Kenrick's frame of reference, examples and tone is very dated. All of his examples and chapter beginnings are about himself, which you would expect would humanize the book and help it move along. Instead it's heavy, dull and incredibly self-aggrandizing. Other books in the Neuro-lit category are much, much better. Avoid this one.
I bought this book because the subject matter seemed extremely interesting. Unfortunately, I can't even listen to it because Fred Stella is a terrible narrator. He over annunciates words and makes a book that could have been interesting, dull. His style reminds me of how students read when I was in middle school. If you can get past the narrator you may enjoy this book, personally I'm going to read it instead.
Compared to other texts - such as Robert Wright's "The Moral Animal" - this text is shallow and appears dated. Additionally, the author's focus on his own life - and corresponding relationship failures - felt both self-important and unimpressive. Overall, disappointed.
The book's title does not do justice to the content, which is really about new approaches to looking at how evolution affects our psychology. I am hooked on the new wave of rigorously researched works of popular science and this book is definitely one of the best. A must-read if you are interested in evolutionary psychology.
yes, clear overview
Fred Stella did a superb job. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't actually Kenrick speaking.
Kenrick is good with anecdotes and has a personable manner. He was one of the earliest researchers in evolutionary psychology and has done a good deal of primary research, so he gives an insider's view of developments in the field. The story has a narrative trajectory, beginning with the early efforts to overcome mass resistance to biological explanations and concluding in a serene late stage, with the revolution more or less completed.
Kenrick accepts the idea of massive modularity but at least systemizes modules by appealing effectively to human life history theory. He doesn't adequately register the way evolutionary psychology has finally succeeded in assimilating the idea of general intelligence, so his concept of human behavior retains the inflexibility that was a crucial limitation in early evolutionary psychology. Theoretically, humans remain robots animated by an array of basic motives automatically elicited by specific environmental inputs. They lack the power of altering behavior by envisioning their own identities extending over time, connecting to social networks beyond the immediate sensory field, and subject to norms, values, and beliefs. But that's only theoretically. Kenrick has enough wisdom, as a narrator, to see beyond some of the limitations in his theoretical model.
The wider evolutionary vision of human nature now takes in "group selection" as part of "multi-level selection." It also takes in the idea of "gene-culture co-evolution." Kenrick doesn't get that far. He reduces human behavior to three causal principles: inclusive fitness, differential parental investment, and reciprocal altruism (Hamilton, Trivers, and Trivers). He shows clearly just how far those three causes can take us in understanding human behavior. He thus also lets us see the limitations in those three explanatory principles.He reduces all mental effort to status striving, itself reduced to mating displays.
Inclusive fitness and differential parental investment account for so much of all animal behavior that evolutionary psychologists can produce a reasonable facsimile of human nature by treating humans as if they have adaptive capabilities no different from those of birds, chimps, and meerkats.That leaves out specifically and singularly human activities and accomplishments: technology, science, trade, philosophy, history, aesthetics, religion, myth, the arts, music, narrative, and ideology. All of human civilization is accounted for by waving airily at the peacock's tail.
Like most evolutionary psychologists even now, Kenrick essentially explains away the human mind. Evolutionary thinkers have only just recently begun to make real progress in understanding gene-culture co-evolution, and Kenrick has made no effort to include those recent and still rudimentary advances. He can thus explain human behavior only in the degree to which it is indistinguishable from the behavior of other dual parenting species or other species capable of cooperative group endeavor.
The authors frankness about his own life and how it related to studies was what kept me interested in this book over many other similar books I have read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and walked away with at least two concepts of human behavior that will change how I view humanity forever. If you like behavioral science and real life examples of how and why humans do what they do I recommend this right up there next to "The Happiness Hypothesis" which can also be found here on Audible.
"A whistle top tour of many interesting ideas"
This audiobook covers a few different areas and brings them together in a way that is a compelling and interesting listen... so much so, I was tempted to mark it down for being too short... until I realised that it was just a case that seven hours has flown by!
I've read / listened around some of these topics before, yet there were still nuggets of new information here... religion and mating strategies for one... so even for the well-read it is worth a listen.
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