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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of…
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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (original 1993; edição 2003)

por Matt Ridley

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1,947226,561 (4.03)67
Referring to Lewis Carroll's Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass, a character who has to keep running to stay in the same place, Matt Ridley demonstrates why sex is humanity's best strategy for outwitting its constantly mutating internal predators. The Red Queen answers dozens of other riddles of human nature and culture -- including why men propose marriage, the method behind our maddening notions of beauty, and the disquieting fact that a woman is more likely to conceive a child by an adulterous lover than by her husband. Brilliantly written, The Red Queen offers an extraordinary new way of interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved.… (mais)
Membro:eresch
Título:The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature
Autores:Matt Ridley
Informação:Harper Perennial (2003), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Colecções:A sua biblioteca
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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature por Matt Ridley (1993)

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Mostrando 1-5 de 22 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
I might have rated this more highly if I hadn't just come off a spate of reading very similar and slightly better works that incorporate much of its content in pithier form (Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, though those were both written afterwards), yet its central metaphor of sexual selection as arms race is compelling enough that I finished it alongside the superior Dennett and Pinker books anyway. The "red queen" of the title is derived from the famous character in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass who at one point tells Alice that in her world, you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in place. Life is similar, in that hard-won evolutionary advantages are obsoleted almost instantly as competitors adapt to keep up - the book is about how sexuality is used both on a macro level between species, as a gene-shuffler that can provide a leg up over parasites and asexual organisms that are forced to evolve a bit more slowly; and on a micro level within species, as males and females choose different game-theoretic strategies to maximize reproductive fitness. Obviously we're most interested in human sexuality, so the book does not disappoint in its exploration of titillating topics like adultery, incest, homosexuality, polygamy, promiscuity, age differences, dimorphism, fashion, and communication, with plenty of comparisons to analogous behavior in the animal kingdom. There's also plenty of pages on whether all this exciting behavior is due to nature or nurture, which I did not find to be as well-written as Dennett or Pinker's very similar sections in their books (strawmen start popping up in conjunction with loaded subjects like feminism, though this happened somewhat in Pinker's book as well); readers who aren't idiots will be unsurprised that Ridley falls into the sensible "it's both, to some degree, depending on what you're talking about" camp. I found the red queen idea to be a an illuminating metaphor and I enjoyed Ridley's take on sexual selection, even if as a work specifically on evolutionary biology it didn't rise to the level of Richard Dawkins' The Extended Phenotype, which I consider to be one of the best books existing on the subject, but since I read it right next to books that seemed to recapitulate most of its insights in fewer pages I'm not sure I would recommend it above either. It was a better-written treatise on human sexuality than your average porn, though, that's for sure. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
The author is at his best when he constantly asks "why?" on issues that may seem mundane or which we take for granted. Why sex not asex? Why does our concept of beauty take on its current form? Why are we mostly monogamous? How has sexual selection shaped out intelligence? My only gripes about this thought provoking read are that it's about a decade old (painfully obvious by the incorrect statistics on the human genome) and Ridley sometimes overstates his conclusions for the sake of the lay audience. ( )
  bsmashers | Aug 1, 2020 |
Stuck choosing between 3 and 4 stars, as I did really enjoy this book, but felt it lost steam a bit in the second half (the "human nature" part). I liked engaging with the various arguments put forward, and it was certainly a lively read. I thought Ridley came across as arrogant and dismissive of other disciplines, but his writing is easy to read, and he was concise in articulating his arguments.

I loved all of the chapters about non-human animals. The experiments were often amusing, and his obvious interest shone through. Later on, when he starts talking about humans, I felt he was arguing somewhat against strawmen. He didn't cite anyone for many of the points he was allegedly arguing against, so you just have to take his word for it that all the other disciplines are irrational and incapable of explaining human nature. I think that's poor academic practice and I wasn't impressed.

There are a couple of sections about homosexuality where I didn't feel he explored the issue very well in terms of adaptational value. It's just assumed that there's a "gay gene". There's mostly only talk of gay men, none of lesbians, and it's assumed that sexual behaviour is binary (hetero/homo) when we know the largest sexual minority is bisexuals. I'd be interested to see a proper exploration of sexual fluidity and cultural comparison from an evolutionary perspective.

This definitely made me want to pick up [b:Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding|6251387|Mothers and Others The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding |Sarah Blaffer Hrdy|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1347821755s/6251387.jpg|6434265] again, which I had put down a while ago (I find hardbacks physically annoying to read, and always worry about damaging them). He cites Hrdy but I don't think she'd written that when he was writing this. Perhaps a lot of research couldn't be included because this book is 20 years old, so I have the unfair advantage of hindsight.

He talks a lot about sexual selection of (human) female traits, but not so much about male ones. I think he could have gone more in depth with that, as it's a really interesting subject. Another book I'm partway through that's full of information on this is [b:Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems|7021914|Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems|Alan F. Dixson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1349019944s/7021914.jpg|6084349]. Again, it's published years after Ridley's book, so is much more up to date.

Overall: enjoyable, definitely easy to read, sparks thought and debate. It does feel biased against other academic disciplines and the format didn't work so well for the explanations of "human nature", and I'd take a lot of what he says with a huge pinch of salt. Good springboard for doing your own research and making your own arguments. ( )
  RFellows | Apr 29, 2020 |
Dry at the start, picks up at some points, but sometimes inaccessible. ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
"The Red Queen" by Matt Ridley is an enjoyable, interesting, but slightly flawed biology book. Ridley's thesis is that sexual selection (in animals of all sorts, not just humans) is responsible for the development of many important traits, rather than pressures from the environment (such as the needs to find food, traverse the landscape, avoid predators, etc.). The importance of sexual selection can be easily overlooked, as we seek some sort of environmental advantage in every evolved trait. But the most powerful drivers of evolution are "Red Queen" races- instances where the goalposts keep moving, like an arms race, so you have to keep changing in order simply to maintain your genes' commonality from generation to generation. Predatory/prey and organism/parasite are two such relationships, but arguably, an even more acute one arises from competition between members of the same species for mates, and in particular, for the highest-quality mates, whose genes or nurture will give one's offspring the best odds of success.

Most of the book focuses on non-human animals, and this is where the book is strongest. Ridley builds off of the gene-centered view of evolution first brought to prominence by Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene," and some of Ridley's best content focuses on the ways whereby what promotes the commonality of a gene differs from what helps the organism to survive and reproduce. (Perhaps reading Dawkins' book would provide more detail on these things.) Another good part of Ridley's book is his discussion of why sexual selection persists and became common, even though it carries a tremendous, 4x penalty over asexual reproduction in terms of passing a single organism's genes to the next generation (half as many children, each of which has half of a single parent's genes).

Ridley shows that humans, like all animals, have been shaped by the pressure of sexual selection as an evolutionary driver. However, Ridley doesn't spend much time on fairly simple examples like height, which would seem to be comparatively easy to prove (a preference for tall men is common among women across many cultures, and that results in taller children of both sexes, changing the goalposts for what counts as "tall"). Instead, Ridley tries to explain aspects of "human nature" as results of evolutionary effects of sexual selection. He may be right to varying degrees, depending on which trait one is considering, but the connections are more tenuous, and it's harder to even measure the strength and commonality of various parts of "human nature." He also gets a little overly-defensive about his views, apparently out of a fear that someone might accuse him of promoting sexism, racism, or provide backing to eugenics (each of which he explicitly disavows).

My favorite part of the section on humans concerned not human nature per se, but the development of intelligence. Ridley points out that the levels of intelligence achieved by homo sapiens are vastly in excess of what is required to solve any of the problems or challenges people encountered in prehistoric Africa. The most likely explanation, Ridley claims, is that intelligence was helpful in securing mates (whether via being charming, good at judging others' character, trickery, etc.), and only the challenge posed by the need to compete with and outwit other humans could explain the relentless march toward greater and greater intelligence in human ancestors. (He does not address why other animals, many of whom also compete for mates, might not face the same pressure for intelligence.)

Overall, I found the book to be interesting, but some of the best parts felt like a trailer for Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene," and some of the other parts felt like a bit too much speculation, leaving me uncertain of what actually is the cause of various biological features. At the least, the book does a good job giving you a feel for the terrifying complexity of disentangling the reasons behind the evolution of a particular animal: you have to understand what happens over vast time scales, at the level of proteins and genes (sometimes orthogonal to or even contrary to the organism's interests), at the level of survival in the environment, and in the context of a competition for the best mates with strongly cultural aspects. It makes me feel that one must be humble when espousing a theory purporting to explain the workings of evolution: though the core concept of survival and propagation of genes seems simple, it is anything but.

For those readers interested in a look at evolution outside the context of biology, as a substrate-independent algorithm for finding niches, optimizing, and seeking out new local maxima of welfare, I recommend "The Origin of Wealth" by Eric Beinhocker. Beinhocker's book is far superior to "The Red Queen" and provides a very helpful framework for understanding the effects of evolution without respect to biology. This then makes biology an application of a more general principle, which may be more intellectually satisfying. ( )
2 vote jrissman | Jul 5, 2016 |
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There is a wealth of information here, and it is an excellent source for researchers because of its descriptions of studies and its extensive extensive reference section, as well as being an interesting book for a scientifically literate public.
 

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Referring to Lewis Carroll's Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass, a character who has to keep running to stay in the same place, Matt Ridley demonstrates why sex is humanity's best strategy for outwitting its constantly mutating internal predators. The Red Queen answers dozens of other riddles of human nature and culture -- including why men propose marriage, the method behind our maddening notions of beauty, and the disquieting fact that a woman is more likely to conceive a child by an adulterous lover than by her husband. Brilliantly written, The Red Queen offers an extraordinary new way of interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved.

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