My Theory of Human Evolution (American Idol edition)

My theory of human evolution (paper, talk) is that our brains changed in several ways to build healthy economies — in particular, to increase specialization, trade, and technical know-how. For example, collectors and connoisseurs pay more for finely-made things than the rest of us; the extra payment helps skilled craftsmen advance their art. Collectors and connoisseurs come to value small improvements, I believe, through side-by-side comparisons. Obviously side-by-side comparisons help us notice small improvements; it’s the predicted hedonic change that’s interesting.

After listening to Jordin Sparks sing “Woman in Love” on American Idol last night, I wondered what other singers had done with it. YouTube was happy to help.

Jordin Sparks

Barbra Streisand

Liz McClarnon

Lili Ivanova

Young Divas


Shiela Rodriguez

Regine Velasquez

After you listen to several of these performances, I predict you will respond more strongly — more fully? — to future performances. The better ones will bring you more pleasure, the worse ones more pain. You will be willing to pay more for the better ones. Saul Sternberg has also been interested in the effect of side-by-side musical comparisons.

Christmas edition of my theory.