Borrowed plumes: mimetic powers and the polymorphism of humans

Biology and Philosophy 26 (6):837-856 (2011)
In this paper, I speculate on imitation’s role in language development and, more significantly, on its connection to sexual selection. My analysis is grounded in an interpretation of Darwin’s Descent of Man . In addition to observing imitation’s role in language development according to the argument of the Descent , I explore the ability of human beings that allows for the imitation of both the beautiful and the terrible or repulsive. I suggest that humans, in their appreciation of the beautiful and formidable characters produced by a process of sexual selection, can appropriate these things in order to adorn themselves, thus imitating other non-human animals. This capacity points to a form of polymorphism manifest in human beings that is grounded in a psychological fluidity. Human beings, like birds, also have the power to use song in order to charm and challenge. Song and music provide the means by which imitation as seen in language development and sexual selection are intertwined, thus providing the important connection between the two main foci of my paper
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-011-9269-z
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Merlin W. Donald (2004). 2 The Definition of Human Nature. In D. Rees & Steven P. R. Rose (eds.), The New Brain Sciences: Perils and Prospects. Cambridge University Press 34.

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