Today, another view of gender and science. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
The behavior of animal
species scatters between two extremes. They are
Tournament Species and Pair-Bonding Species.
Tournament species males breed during annual
tournaments. They compete fiercely with each other.
Aggressive males produce many offspring. The gentle
ones produce few. The males are larger than the
females. Females do all the parenting.
Pair-bonding species live in better balance. Male
and female share parenting. They're close to the
same size. They're monogamous. One male produces
roughly as many offspring as the next.
No species is purely one or the other. Fish aren't
great pair bonders. Still, the male often does more
of the parenting.
So, what about us? Are we a tournament or a
pair-bonding species? At first blush you'd say we
pair bond. But something else comes out of the
ancient legends. Listen as the Bakhtiari nomads of
northwestern Iran tell about their progenitor:
And the father of our people, the hill-man,
Bakhtyar, came out of the fastness of the southern
mountains in ancient times. His seed were as
numerous as the rocks on the mountains, and his
The sons of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob
were no less numerous. That's the mark of a champion
among tournament males. As for pair bonding: Jacob
loved Rachel but was polygamous nonetheless.
Anthropologists sort through a thousand human
cultures. They find 83 percent accept polygamy.
Most use a double standard in sexual restrictions.
Only half a percent practice polyandry.
Julian Jaynes sheds an odd light on all this in his
remarkable book, The Origins of Consciousness
in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He
reads our oldest writings and finds a great
transition around 1200 BC. He believes we formed
our modern analytical self-consciousness then.
You might question Jaynes's details. But the
cultures that spawned us surely had a new
analytical mind after 1200 BC. They gave us
philosophy, science, and an aggressive new
Those cultures were also very masculine. Look at
the ancient Israelites, the Assyrians, the Hellenic
Greeks, the Romans, the Vikings. They all had
strong tournament species features.
For 3000 years since then, we've strutted like
peacocks. We've kept double standards. We've
engaged other males in rituals of combat to show
our superiority. That's been as true in science as
it's been in war. We built the catapult. We built
the bomb. Still, we call ourselves a pair-bonding
No doubt that's because, at some deep-seated level,
we wish we really were. And maybe, someday, we
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Konner, M., Why the Reckless Survive, and Other
Secrets of Nature. New York: Penguin Books,
1991, pp. 5-9.
Bronowski, J., The Ascent of Man.
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1973, Chapter 2,
"The Harvest of the Seasons." (This deals with the
Bakhtiari. It's also available on videotape and
Jaynes, J., The Origins of Consciousness in
the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.
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