How music, sex help us evolve

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ITS ALL CONNECTED: Rob Brooks is the author of Sex, Genes & Rock n Roll, the book about how evolution has shaped the modern world. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Noni Mokati

Rob Brooks is paid to think about sex for a living. But there’s more to life than what happens in the bedroom, according to the evolutionary biologist.

In his latest book, titled Sex, Genes and Rock n Roll, Brooks – a professor and director of the evolution and ecology research centre at the New South Wales University in Sydney, Australia – seeks to explain how music, evolution, our choice of diet and genetic pool affects who we are.

“A lot of what we do is constantly aimed at making ourselves attractive for a possible mating partner.

“This is why reproduction is the main theme of evolution,” he said before giving a much-anticipated public lecture at Wits University this week.

Brooks, 41, explained that every person alive today was a success story and that the success emanated from various activities.

“For instance, people who make the best music have the best partners. Music moves us. It stimulates our romantic senses. Every single person can attest that their first date which had some bit of music… allowed them to grow closer and bond – and sometimes were able to create life,” he said.

One of the other topics in Brooks’s book is Asia’s missing women.

China’s congressional report shows that in nine years there would be 40 million more men of “marriageable” age than women. The report also says the population imbalance, caused by China’s “one-child” policy, had adverse social and security implications.

“Most groups in the past preferred sons, as they had the ability to expand the family name. That phenomenon has resurfaced once again and is spiralling out of control.

“With modern technology, partners are now able to decide which gender their baby should be. This is the current case in India, where female fetuses have been done away with,” he said.

He says because our genes have also evolved over time there was also a great advantage in that our offspring could be much better than us.

Brooks also discusses what he terms the three “greatest problems with men”.

These are polygamy, inequality and uneven sex ratios.

“When you have a combinations of these factors a lot of men who are unable to have babies because there aren’t enough women around resort to violence. It’s survival of the fittest as every man will do anything to have a family of his own and accumulate wealth.”

Brooks’s passion to reveal the wonders that lie behind evolution is not a new venture for him.

So determined was he to find a good and solid university after high school that he travelled from Australia to Wits in Johannesburg.

“I came to Wits because in those days it was known to be the best evolution university. For my PhD I worked on guppies (fish) to prove some of my theories on evolution, because the species have an interesting way of courting and mating.”

When he moved back to Sydney Brooks successfully established his career and later developed the Sex Lab.

He has since published 17 papers on evolution and has seen 14 post-doctorate students through their studies.

Brooks said feedback on his book had been phenomenal.

The Week Magazine rated the book as one of its two best non-fiction books for 2011.

“I didn’t write this book for biologists… I wrote this book for anyone interested in the subject of evolution and how it affects their world,” he said.


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