Why Men Won't Ask for Directions

Why Men Won't Ask for Directions: The Seductions of Sociobiology

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Why Men Won't Ask for Directions
    Book Description:

    Much of the evolutionary biology that has grabbed headlines in recent years has sprung from the efforts of sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists to explain sexual features and behavior--even differences between how men and women think--as evolutionary adaptations. They have looked to the forces of natural selection to explain everything from the mimicry of male mockingbirds to female orgasms among humans. In this controversial book, Richard Francis argues that the utility of this approach is greatly exaggerated. He proposes instead a powerful alternative rooted in the latest findings in evolutionary biology as well as research on the workings of our brains, genes, and hormones.

    Exploring various sexual phenomena, Francis exposes fundamental defects in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, which he traces to their misguided emphasis on "why" questions at the expense of "how" questions. Francis contends that this preoccupation with "why" questions (such as, "Why won't men ask for directions"?) results in a paranoiac mindset and distorted evolutionary explanations. His alternative framework entails a broader conception of what constitutes an evolutionary explanation, one in which both evolutionary history, as embodied in the tree of life, and developmental processes are brought to the foreground. This alternative framework is also better grounded in basic biology.

    Deeply learned, consistently persuasive, and always engaging, this book is a welcome antidote to simplistic sociobiological exegeses of animal and human behavior.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5069-3
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Darwinian Paranoia
    (pp. 1-9)

    There is an old joke that goes something like this:

    Question : Why does it take millions of sperm to fertilize one egg?

    Answer : They won’t stop to ask for directions.

    What makes this joke funny of course is its allusion to the conventional wisdom that among the foibles of the male members of our species is a reluctance to admit they are lost, especially when they are in the company of women. Moreover, the joke implies that given the same circumstances, a woman would have no such inhibitions. The fact that putative sex differences such as this are...

  6. 2 An Orgasm of One’s Own
    (pp. 10-18)

    The erotic sculptures adorning the temples at Khajuro in central India have long shocked and titillated observers from Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures. But these illustrations of passages from the Hindu sacred text the Kama Sutra were meant to instruct devout Hindus in what is for them an important aspect of the religious experience, one that became the focus in some Tantric traditions. Eroticism, however, has never been integral to the religious experience of devotees of Levantine religions. In fact, eroticism has generally been viewed as antithetical to an appreciation of the sacred. St. Paul was quite explicit on this subject,...

  7. 3 Sex without SEX
    (pp. 19-35)

    We are in the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan desert—the Big Bend Region of southwestern Texas—looking down at the Rio Grande about 2,000 feet below. It is a morning in late May, the middle of the rainy season. Last night we pitched our tents on an exposed cliff, for the view. The unimpeded panorama of a vast stretch of the desert floor extending well into Mexico was spectacular, especially when the lightning show began many miles to the southeast. But the lightning, and then the thunder, were moving in our direction and soon were upon us, forcing us...

  8. 4 Transgendered
    (pp. 36-50)

    Coral reefs are the marine equivalents of tropical rain forests. But in contrast to rain forests, where much of the action is hidden from view, coral reefs are transparent. With only a snorkel and a mask, you can directly experience the awesome abundance and diversity of life on the reef, an environment so different from those in which we spend most of our lives that by comparison, the Gobi Desert, Antarctica, the Congo, and New York City are just variations on a single theme. The most spectacular coral reefs occur in an arc extending westward from Indonesia to the Philippines...

  9. 5 Alternative Lifestyles
    (pp. 51-74)

    Sausalito, California , is a small, affluent community situated on the San Francisco Bay, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has an abundance of what travel agents refer to as “charm,” which is why it is a popular tourist destination. One of Sausalito’s principal attractions is its houseboat-lined shoreline.Houseboattypically conjures images of a ramshackle bohemian lifestyle. Not so in Sausalito. The houseboats there run into the million-dollar range and beyond. Multistoried and well appointed, some resemble miniature Venetian palazzos.

    In May 1985, the houseboat residents began complaining of unearthly droning sounds emanating from the water around...

  10. 6 Social Inhibitions
    (pp. 75-101)

    East Africa’s rift lakes are so called because they are located along a seam in the continent running north to south, which is the result of the rifting, or separating, of two parts of Africa, the same tectonic forces that dismembered Gondwanaland. The largest of the rift lakes is Lake Tanganyika, second only to Russia’s Lake Baikal in volume. It is also extremely deep. Below about 200 feet it is anoxic and lifeless, but the shallower water teems with life, especially near the rocky shores. The warm water is quite clear; visibility can extend beyond 100 feet. The clarity of...

  11. 7 Why Does the Mockingbird Mock?
    (pp. 102-123)

    One consequence of our domination of nature is that our experience of wildlife has become increasingly mediated and indirect. Televised nature programs provide vicarious access to wild things in wild places, and zoos and museums provide a direct experience of wild things, but only in simulated environments. Our direct experience of wildlife is primarily of pests: the flies, termites, cockroaches, and spiders that invade our houses and the aphids, thrips, earwigs, weevils, and mites that plague our gardens. There are exceptions of course—butterflies spring immediately to mind—but most of our direct experiences of wildlife are not happy ones....

  12. 8 Brain Ecology
    (pp. 124-149)

    Songbirds, like most wildlife, have been adversely affected by human activities. Human environmental alterations are not detrimental to all song-birds, however. The house sparrow is now abundant throughout the world, inhabiting virtually every location that humans have managed to colonize. As are certain cockroaches and black rats, house sparrows are human symbionts, preferring our carpentry to anything a forest has to offer. Another songbird that benefits from human activities—though much less directly—is the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater). Its preferred habitat is open grasslands interspersed with occasional clumps of trees or bushes; it avoids extensive forests, but patchy forests...

  13. 9 Why Men Won't Ask for Directions
    (pp. 150-174)

    The hunting party, consisting of 10 very tired men, trudges across the drought-parched savanna in the searing afternoon sun. Though uncomfortable, the conditions make their task easier because their prey, clustered as they are at the remaining water holes, are relatively easy to locate. But it’s a long way to the nearest water hole, and the men are already exhausted from the heat and thirsty. The leader, call him Fred, grunts sounds of encouragement, and the other men temporarily quicken their pace, but they soon lapse back into a half-stumbling, fatigued gait. Finally, Fred signals a halt near a large...

  14. 10 A Textbook Case of Penis Envy?
    (pp. 175-191)

    Imagine some alien creature that is highly social and forms complex societies. These societies are far from egalitarian; social stratification approaches levels found in their human counterparts. But in these societies it is the females, who, by virtue of their greater size and strength, control all of the important resources. Not surprisingly, these are matriarchal societies within which social position is inherited from the mother. Highborn females experience a life of relative ease. For the lowborn females, however, life is a struggle, so much so that they find it very difficult to raise a family. Most of their children starve...

  15. 11 Darwin’s Temptress
    (pp. 192-200)

    In his classic study of religion among the Azande peoples of East Africa, Evans-Pritchard noted that most deaths were attributed to witchcraft, no matter what the proximate cause or how-explanation.¹ This observation is true of many tribal societies, where witchcraft is especially favored as an explanation for improbable causes of death such as lightning or snakebites. It’s not that the Azande don’t accept the how-explanation (how the victim accidentally stepped on the snake or how snake venom causes death); it’s just that they are not impressed by these explanations, because they fail to answer the bigger why-questions: Why was the...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 201-256)
    (pp. 257-310)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 311-325)