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Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life

A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing our View of Human Nature

Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life
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“Kenrick writes like a dream.”—Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology and Neurology, Stanford University; author of A Primate’s Memoir and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
 
What do sex and murder have to do with the meaning of life? Everything.

In Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick exposes the selfish animalistic underside of human nature, and shows how it is intimately connected to our greatest and most selfless achievements. Masterfully integrating cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and complexity theory, this intriguing book paints a comprehensive picture of the principles that govern our lives. As Kenrick divulges, beneath our civilized veneer, human beings are a lot like howling hyenas and barking baboons, with heads full of homicidal tendencies and sexual fantasies. But, in his view, many ingrained, apparently irrational behaviors—such as inclinations to one-night stands, racial prejudices, and conspicuous consumption—ultimately manifest what he calls “Deep Rationality.”

Although our heads are full of simple selfish biases that evolved to help our ancestors survive, modern human beings are anything but simple and selfish cavemen. Kenrick argues that simple and selfish mental mechanisms we inherited from our ancestors ultimately give rise to the multifaceted social lives that we humans lead today, and to the most positive features of humanity, including generosity, artistic creativity, love, and familial bonds. And out of those simple mechanisms emerge all the complexities of society, including international conflicts and global economic markets. By exploring the nuance of social psychology and the surprising results of his own research, Kenrick offers a detailed picture of what makes us caring, creative, and complex—that is, fully human.

 Illuminated with stories from Kenrick’s own colorful experiences -- from his criminally inclined shantytown Irish relatives, his own multiple high school expulsions, broken marriages, and homicidal fantasies, to his eventual success as an evolutionary psychologist and loving father of two boys separated by 26 years -- this book is an exploration of our mental biases and failures, and our mind’s great successes. Idiosyncratic, controversial, and fascinating, Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life uncovers the pitfalls and promise of our biological inheritance.

Basic Books; April 2011
288 pages; ISBN 9780465023424
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