From one of the world's leading authorities on animal behavior, comes the astonishing story of how the female brain drives the evolution of beauty in animals and humans. The author and acclaimed science writer Michael Lemonick discuss sexual selection; please join us.
Darwin developed the theory of sexual selection to explain why the animal world abounds in stunning beauty, from the brilliant colors of butterflies and fishes to the songs of birds and frogs. He argued that animals have “a taste for the beautiful” that drives their potential mates to evolve features that make them more sexually attractive and reproductively successful. But if Darwin explained why sexual beauty evolved in animals, he struggled to understand how. In A Taste for the Beautiful, Michael Ryan tells the remarkable story of how he and other scientists have taken up where Darwin left off and transformed our understanding of sexual selection, shedding new light on human behavior in the process.
Drawing on cutting-edge work in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, as well as his own important studies of the tiny Túngara frog deep in the jungles of Panama, Ryan explores the key questions: Why do animals perceive certain traits as beautiful and others not? Do animals have an inherent sexual aesthetic and, if so, where is it rooted? Ryan argues that the answers to these questions lie in the brain—particularly of females, who act as biological puppeteers, spurring the development of beautiful traits in males. This theory of how sexual beauty evolves explains its astonishing diversity and provides new insights about the degree to which our own perception of beauty resembles that of other animals.
Michael J. Ryan is Professor in Zoology at the University of Texas and a Senior Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. He is a leading researcher in the fields of sexual selection, mate choice, and animal communication. Michael Lemonick is an opinion editor at Scientific American, a former senior staff writer at Climate Central,and a former senior science writer at Time. He is the author of The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmo;, Echo of the Big Bang, Other Worlds: The Search For Life in the Universe; Mirror Earth: The Search for Our Planet's Twin; and The Perpetual Now: A Story of Amnesia, Memory, and Love.