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In 1983, Vincent Sarich taught a course at Berkeley called "The Evolution of Human Behavior." He let us know on the first day that the class was experimental. He had some rough ideas about course content -- some things he wanted to talk about, a handful of ideas he wanted to share.
Sounded like good clean fun, and we really did have a blast, too. Professor Sarich (that grizzly teddy bear on the left) was good to his word. He talked, we listened -- and argued with him, of course.
For a final exam, he asked us to write three short essays on topics of our own choosing. They had to be somewhat relevant to the course, but beyond that, we were on our own. My three topics:
Genius, a maladaptive trait
Why are hiccups contagious?
The Road Warrior:
a sociobiologic perspective
I got an A+.
Funny thing, though. I've only retained two things from that class. One is a concept: the Tragedy of the Commons (see the Wikipedia article here
, or the original article here
), which suggests that folks will always choose their own self interest over the common good, even to their ultimate detriment. If you're curious about this, I recommend you start with the Wiki article, since it is shorter than the original article and has considerably more perspective.
The other thing I learned in Professor Sarich's class is why men love cleavage. "I want to talk about breasts today," he said, except that with his slight speech impediment it came out "breashts." "Why are they so appealing?
The traditional sociobiological interpretation is that large breasts are desirable because they translate to well fed babies. Sociobiology
was big back then. Still is, for all I know. In case you're unfamiliar with it, here's the basic idea. Our behavior is ruled by our genes, and in particular, our genes' desire to pass on more of themselves to the next generation. "But," you argue, "genes are not sentient." Pshaw! Genes don't have to be sentient to find ways of furthering their own interests.
Back to boobs. Professor Sarich contended that the sociobiologists were wrong. Men don't love breasts because they want well fed babies. Men crave hooters because of a cross-wiring problem. You see, men get boobs confused with butts:
Recalling that the missionary position is, anthropologically speaking, rare (and dreadfully European), this is the view most men have during sex. Butt cheeks. According to Prof. Sarich, guys crave cleavage because it reminds us of butt cheeks in general, sex in particular. When a woman shows us her décolletage
, she's giving us an invitation to the dance.
Theories like this are only useful if they can shed light on other inexplicable phenomena. For me, Sarich's idea worked because it explained why, when I was a kid, this old cover for Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach
always gave me wood.
It's gotta be true.