329 pages, no illustrations
For all that science knows about the living world, notes David P. Barash, there are even more things that we don't know, genuine evolutionary mysteries that perplex the best minds in biology. Paradoxically, many of these mysteries are very close to home, involving some of the most personal aspects of being human.
Homo Mysterious examines a number of these evolutionary mysteries, exploring things that we don't yet know about ourselves, laying out the best current hypotheses, and pointing toward insights that scientists are just beginning to glimpse. Why do women experience orgasm? Why do men have a shorter lifespan than women? Why does homosexuality exist? Why does religion exist in virtually every culture? Why do we have a fondness for the arts? Why do we have such large brains? And why does consciousness exist? Readers are plunged into an ocean of unknowns – the blank spots on the human evolutionary map, the terra incognita of our own species – and are introduced to the major hypotheses that currently occupy scientists who are attempting to unravel each puzzle (including some solutions proposed here for the first time). Throughout Homo Mysterious, readers are invited to share the thrill of science at its cutting edge, a place where we know what we don't know, and, moreover, where we know enough to come up with some compelling and seductive explanations.
Homo Mysterious is a guide to creative thought and future explorations, based on the best, most current thinking by evolutionary scientists. It captures the allure of the "not-yet-known" for those interested in stretching their scientific imaginations.
"A beautifully written book. It has the wisdom of maturity but with none of its ponderousness, the enthusiasm of youth with none of its brashness."
- Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion
"David Barash has long been one of our wittiest, warmest, and most insightful writers on the implications of evolution for human nature."
- Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
"David Barash is a thinker who combines deep understanding of evolutionary science with a deft pen, an unpretentious erudition, and a mischievous sense of humor. If you've ever been puzzled by, longed for, or found comfort in female orgasms, literary art, or the idea of an afterlife, this is your chance to see how a wise scientist uses Darwinian theory to try to unravel those riddles, and many more besides."
- Melvin Konner, author of The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind and The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit
"David Barash is incapable of writing a dull word. Any discussion of human nature is bound to be controversial, and Barash is fearless in plunging in and assessing ideas and making suggestions. You will surely not agree with everything he says, but equally surely, you will come away better informed and wiser in your future judgments about our ever-fascinating species."
- Michael Ruse, editor of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolution
"A thoughtful, witty book."
- Publishers Weekly
Chapter One. In Praise of Mystery: "That's how the light gets in"
Chapter Two. Sexual Mysteries: I. Menstruation, Concealed Ovulation, and Breasts
Chapter Three. Sexual Mysteries: II. Female Orgasm, Menopause, and Men
Chapter Four. Sexual Mysteries: III. Homosexuality
Chapter Five. Art: I. Cheesecake, Byproducts, and Groups
Chapter Six. Art: II. Play, Practice, and Sex (again)
Chapter Seven. Religion: I. Genes, Memes, Minds, and Motives
Chapter Eight. Religion: II. Social Bonding and Morality
Chapter Nine. On the Matter of Mind
Chapter Ten. Digging for Treasure
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David P. Barash is Professor of Psychology and Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, and author or coauthor of dozens of books, including The Hare and the Tortoise: The Conflict between Culture and Biology in Human Affairs; Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature; and Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression, and Take Revenge. He is also a regular contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education and to the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times, one of the founders of sociobiology, a Fellow of the AAAS, and the recipient of numerous awards.