24 February 2011


SEX AT DAWN. Referring not to the timing of bliss with one's partner, but rather to a remarkable book by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality is a revelation. I first discussed it in this forum seven months ago, but had not yet read it. Since then I have, and I'm mightily impressed. Ryan and Jetha's scholarship is impeccable, and their style of writing is direct, clear and forceful. The book jacket itself provides a succinct summary --

"Since Darwin's day, we've been told that sexual monogamy comes naturally to our species. Mainstream science -- as well as religious and cultural institutions -- has maintained that men and women evolved in families in which a man's possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman's fertility and fidelity. But this narrative is collapsing. Fewer and fewer couples are getting married, and divorce rates keep climbing as adultery and flagging libido drag down even seemingly solid marriages.

"How can reality be reconciled with the accepted narrative? It can't be, according to renegade thinkers Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. While debunking almost everything we "know" about sex, they offer a bold alternative explanation in this provocative and brilliant book.

"Ryan and Jetha's central contention is that human beings evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care, and, often, sexual partners. Weaving together convergent, frequently overlooked evidence from anthropology, archaeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality, the authors show how far from human nature monogamy really is. Human beings everywhere and in every era have confronted the same familiar, intimate situations in surprisingly different ways. The authors expose the ancient roots of human sexuality while pointing toward a more optimistic future illuminated by our innate capacities for love, cooperation, and generosity.

"With intelligence, humor, and wonder, Ryan and Jetha show how our promiscuous past haunts our struggles over monogamy, sexual orientation, and family dynamics. They explore why long-term fidelity can be so difficult for so many, why sexual passion tends to fade even as love deepens, why many middle-aged men risk everything for transient affairs with younger women, why homosexuality persists in the face of standard evolutionary logic, and what the human body reveals about the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality.

"In the tradition of the best historical and scientific writing, Sex at Dawn unapologetically upends unwarranted assumptions and unfounded conclusions while offering a revolutionary understanding of why we live and love as we do."

If, after reading the above summary, you remain skeptical, that's understandable. I was too, in my initial post. But reading the book is its own reward. The depth and breadth of their evidence, and their thorough, common-sense examination of the faulty assumptions and shaky conclusion of the "standard narrative", have persuaded me that we humans have much more potential than we give ourselves credit for. I invite you to read this book, and share your own impressions afterward. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

EN-V. Last night on the PBS science series NOVA ScienceNOW, one segment was on small, robotic cars, in particular the GM concept car known as the EN-V. It is a dandy idea for urban commuters, but would require a system of dedicated streets or lanes for these two-wheeled electric vehicles, since they are so small and light that they would not stand up to a collision with a standard automobile. Further, at this early state in development the EN-V (tested in three different configurations) has only a 25 mile range, and can only travel at 25 mph. It's also not clear how such an underpowered machine would cope with steep hills, potholed roads, or nasty weather. Nevertheless, the idea is appealing. Who knows -- someday a refined iteration of the EN-V may be a common sight on city streets or even on interstate highways. The thought makes me smile.

To view the six and a half minute PBS segment, click here and then click on "Watch Robotic Cars".

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