Art, Science, and Evolution
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Since Darwin’s time, we have known that natural selection is the prime shaper of species, but it doesn’t act alone. Sexual selection, involving females’ preference to mate with males who exhibit certain characteristics, is key as well. What has never been explained is why so many of the traits evolved via sexual selection are so beautiful, from the peacock’s tail to the elaborate shelters of the male bowerbird. In Survival of the Beautiful, David Rothenberg argues that insights from the world of art can shed light on this lingering mystery.
In the first part of the book, Rothenberg boldly suggests that evolution produces a real preference for beautiful features, not just practical ones. In so doing, he opposes two popular ideas: the notion that the specific traits preferred by females are arbitrary; and the “handicap principle,” which posits that fancy displays spotlight a male’s fitness even as they make him more vulnerable to predators.
Rothenberg devotes the later chapters of his book to showing how insights from the world of art have enriched our ability to discern beauty in the animal kingdom, and vice versa. “If we find similar fractal patterns in [Jackson] Pollock’s drips and supposedly chaotic natural scenes,” he writes, “this might help explain why such abstraction on the wall lures us in.” Further along, we ponder a host of topics, from the aesthetics of natural camouflage among various species to the curious true case of Siri the elephant, who has painted an aesthetically sophisticated self-portrait.
Survival of the Beautiful proposes a profound link between the worlds of evolution and art.
Hardcover Book : 320 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc. ( October 25, 2011 )
Item #: 13-487542
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 23.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)