Freud’s observation that humans are hypersexual has become such a cultural staple to have settled in as the sitcom-with-canned-laughter cash-cow. Although I had long been steeped in Darwin’s theories of sexual selection and sexual display, I hadn’t put the two together until I read Geoffrey Miller’s book, The Mating Mind (2000), the thesis of which is that much of human evolution is the result of sexual display.
In its pure form, mania is a hyperactive state of euphoria. In paleontology, a fossil is usually dated by the stratum in which it is found and a cardinal feature of mania serves as such a stratum: extraordinary hyperactivity in grammatically complex language, which is clearly a recently evolved cognitive capacity that is unique to Homo sapiens. According to the biography of John Nash, A Beautiful Mind (1998,) the following incident took place in the McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Boston, where Nash was hospitalized for schizophrenia:
Robert Lowell, the poet, walked in, manic as hell. He sees this very pregnant woman. He looks at her and starts quoting the begat sequences in the Bible. Then he started spinning quotes with the word “anointed.” He decided to lecture us on the meaning of “anointed” in all the ways it was used in the King James Version of the Bible. In the end I decided that every word in the English language was a personal friend of his.
The realization that mania is a strictly human disorder constituted a major insight for me and essentially completed my “mythos” of human nature. After the prehuman hominid species had been immersed in a group consciousness for six million years, emotionally driven by twin aversions
to separation anxiety and the fear of exile, suddenly Homo sapiens evolved the goal-oriented motivation to display ourselves individually to the opposite sex. Sexual selection and display are not uncommon in nature, the most famously extreme example of its extravagant “runaway” nature being peacock feathers, but once you start thinking about our own behavior in this light, you quickly realize that we humans have ridden an acceleration of this evolutionary process up to its ultimate limits. All the human foibles are on display in the illness of mania with hyper-sexuality front and center. Wild spending sprees reflect our avarice and greed, and our dangerous side is highlighted by intense episodes of “narcissistic” rage. However, the grandiosity that is a hallmark of mania is an exaggeration of the creative imagination that sweeps our species far out and beyond all others that are tied to the earth.
Now I could plainly see that the unique genius of our own species resulted from the interaction between two minds—a superimposed goal-oriented mind emanating from the egotistical individual and a far more ancient and established communal mind motivated by the avoidance of painful fears. A plethora of mysteries became clear. Whereas the old mind was rule-based and dependent on the closeness of participation (identification) for the transmission of culture, the new mind could transmit its sexual displays rapidly across groups by means of imitation. In my mind I could see young males and females from different clans romancing one another with playfully creative songs. I had pondered the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s conception of language as a “game,” and was aware of Noam Chomsky’s search for a universal grammar. Now I was imagining that human language evolved as an interaction between 1) vocal sexual-display-games (phonics), played and quickly imitated by children, and 2) the underlying more slowly moving mind in which the rules of grammar were created by the process, having evolved over millions of years, of communal identification, serving to bind groups together in ever larger groups of groups.
Self-awareness in this newly created individual mind is possible because its experience is refracted through the older underlying mind. Support for this idea is found in experiments demonstrating that, when one freely decides to move one’s finger, the resulting activity in the brain precedes the time of the decision. The decision is freely made, but the individual does not become aware of it until the underlying communal brain registers it.
An explanation for the human liability for mental illness via the mechanism of feedback reverberation also appeared. One of the principal functions of the self-centered ego-mind is to monitor the older communal mind in order to “spin” its egotistical agenda with a variable amount of the old style good-for-the-group seriousness. This is tantamount to placing a microphone (ego) in the older-and-wiser brain to listen to the “better angels” of its evolved emotions—analogous to a speaker. At a certain level of emotional intensity, the microphone and speaker lose their regulation and devolve into the feedback reverberation resulting in the various mental illnesses.
Evidence for sexual selection and display is found in the fossils of modern humans, which are more gracile and childlike with proportionately bigger heads than their hominid forebears—a condition known as neoteny, in which adult humans retain juvenile characteristics. If you stop to consider it, women are markedly more neotonic than males, with reduced noses and jaws. Yet on their infantilized anatomies, human females have added exaggerated sexual characteristics, such as rounded breasts.
The earliest cultural artifacts from around 100,000 years ago found in both the north and south of Africa, (with trade routes in between, connoting cooperation between groups), as well as in the Levant, are pierced shells and red ocher clearly used as body ornaments. It was natural for gold to become the most valuable commodity for humans because its shining luster does not tarnish, making it the ideal body adornment. 78% of gold continues to be used for jewelry.
The direction of human evolution has been the progressive amalgamation of groups. Our hypersexual ego led to the miracle of symbolic language, the explosion of culture 50,000 years ago, and finally to the domestication of plants and animals 12,000 years ago. Thereafter, our reawakened tendencies for violence and war led to the “age of usurpation.” The long evolved capacity for people to coordinate their functioning under a single will for the good of their small groups became geometrically more powerful as the sizes of groups grew larger and then was usurped by individuals driven by the long suppressed primate impulse to dominate. However, the net effect of 10,000 years of chronic war has been the inexorable expansion of groups.