Introspective Articulate Ape Seeks Same

Sexual selection for verbal courtship may have re-engineered our minds in other ways, favoring abilities to articulate a wider range of our mental processes. Before language evolved, there may have been little reason for animals to introspect about their thoughts and feelings. If introspection does not lead to adaptive behavior, it cannot be favored by evolution. However, once verbal courtship became important, sexual selection pressures could have increased the incentives for being able to consciously experience more of the thoughts and feelings that guide our behavior, and being able to report those experiences verbally.

Lovers sometimes say, "Words cannot express what I feel about you," but this attention-getting device usually precedes hours of impassioned chatter or lovemaking. Articulate people can articulate anything that they consciously experience. Insofar as sexual choice favored verbal self-disclosure, it may have favored an expansion of conscious experience itself. The result is the effortless, fluid way we can translate from perceived objects through consciously attended qualities into spoken observations. We can walk with a lover through Kew Gardens, notice a rose, describe its distinctive color and fragrance, and perhaps even whisper a relevant quote from Shakespeare's sonnet fifteen, observing

Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay, To change your day of youth to sullied night; And all in war with Time for love of you, As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

This high-bandwidth channel, from perception through consciousness and memory to articulate communication, seems unique to humans. Only when sexual choice favored the report-ability of our subjective experiences—with the emergence of the mental clearing-house we call consciousness—did our strangely promiscuous introspection abilities emerge, such that we seem to have instant conscious access to such a range of impressions, ideas, and feelings. This may explain why philosophical writing about consciousness so often sounds like love poetry— philosophers of mind, like lovesick teenagers, dwell upon the redness of the rose, the emotional urgency of music, the soft warmth of skin, and the existential loneliness of the self. The philosophers wonder why such subjective experiences exist, given that they seem irrelevant to our survival prospects, while the lovesick teenagers know perfectly well that their romantic success depends, in part, on making a credible show of aesthetic sensitivity to their own conscious pleasures.

Such evolutionary pressures to report our conscious experiences may have even influenced how we perceive and categorize things. Psychologist Jennifer Freyd has argued that some of our cognitive processes have become adapted to the demands of verbal "shareability." For example, we may tend to perceive some naturally continuous phenomena in discrete ways, just because it is easier to give verbal labels to discrete categories than to points on fuzzy continua. Applied to verbal courtship, Freyd's shareability idea suggests that sexual selection may have made human mental processes well adapted for producing romantically attractive language, not just effective survival behavior.

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