The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution

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Part Two examines the many aesthetic interests humans take in animals and how these reflect our biological interests, and the idea that our environmental and landscape preferences are rooted in the experiences of our distant ancestors.

In considering the controversial subject of human beauty, evolutionary psychologists have traditionally focused on female physical attractivenessin the context of mate selection, but Davies presents a broader view which decouples human beauty from mate choice and explains why it goes more with social performance and self-presentation. Part Three asks if the arts, together or singly, are biological adaptations, incidental byproducts of nonart adaptations, or so removed from biology that they rate as purely cultural technologies.

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Davies does not conclusively support any one of the many positions considered here, but argues that thereare grounds, nevertheless, for seeing art as part of human nature. Art serves as a powerful and complex signal of human fitness, and so cannot be incidental to biology. Indeed, aesthetic responses and art behaviors are the touchstones of our humanity. Additional Product Features Dewey Edition. When this discovery is coupled with the idea that art and its appreciation remain a prominent part of human history, the question of the connection between evolution, art, and one's aesthetic sense becomes significant.

Davies offers a thorough and engaging exploration of this precise question. Taking Davies's criticisms seriously would certainly enhance the quality of research in this area. Examples of vestiges in humans are the appendix, which played a role in digestion for a distant herbivore ancestor, and the coccyx, which is the remnant of a tail. A fourth possibility is provided by the negative hypothesis -- that there is no significant connection between art and evolution. The relation between evolved adaptations and art behaviors might be so distant and thin that it would be misleading to claim an interesting or explanatorily fruitful link between them.

Many behaviors -- the making of fire and the wearing of clothing, for example -- are widespread because they are culturally passed down for their usefulness, not because we are genetically programmed to express them. This "negative" fourth hypothesis is not negative in general, but only about the connection between art and biological evolution; this view is that art is instead a culturally transmitted technology. Having laid out these options, Davies immediately sets aside the third, the "vestige" hypothesis, because art has too powerful a role in our lives for this view to be likely.

He is also quick to set aside his fourth option:.

I am reluctant to endorse views that treat biology and culture as separate domains with very little causal interaction between them, and some such separation is presumed in this view. As Davies finds in the course of the book that none of the three remaining options handles all the data well, at the end he reaches a somewhat negative conclusion:. If technology , spandrel and adaptation [and vestige] exhaust the logical space of possibilities, as I believe they do, it looks as if something has gone wrong. The problem in this treatment involves the fourth option, the idea that art is a culturally transmitted technology.

Davies says he does not find this view attractive, because as he puts the point again later it "presupposes a clearer division between cultural development and the forces of evolution than I think is plausible" p. However, although there can be an art-as-technology view that sees "no significant connection" between evolutionary processes and art, this is not the only option, and not the best option.

A useful comparison is with the cooking of food: how does cooking fit into the taxonomy above? Is it an adaptation, a spandrel, a vestige, or a technology in the sense of something with "no significant connection" to evolution? Cooking is very old here I draw on Wrangham It is pretty likely , years old roughly the age of our species , and maybe as much as 2 million the age of our genus, Homo. It is passed on by social learning; one person picks it up from another.

Once cooking is in place, it affects our diet, and once diet is changed, this profoundly affects our bodies and our brains. Our bodies are affected because cooked food is softer and easier to digest. Our gut gets smaller.

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Our senses and brains are affected because smell becomes less important, and -- somewhat more controversially -- cooked food is higher-quality food that runs a higher-powered brain. These effects of cooking are effects on biological evolution; the changes to the gut and the sense of smell are genetic changes. These changes occur because new genetic mutations arise and become more common. Those mutations are advantageous, though, because of the prevalence of socially learned behaviors. The mutations would not be useful otherwise. So cultural changes affect selection pressures, which then affect the biological evolution of our bodies and brains.

In principle, it could then happen that further mutations arise that make cooking behaviors themselves easier to acquire -- perhaps in such a way that cooking eventually arises reliably in each individual without other cooks functioning as models. The behaviors become unconditional -- or rather, much less conditional -- in their appearance. That is a form of "Baldwin effect" Weber and Depew You might then ask: why should this last stage occur?

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If cooking were already going on, why would cooking-mutations be favored? That is a fair question, and the reply would have to involve something like the importance of quicker and more reliable acquisition. In any case, this step has apparently not occurred in the case of cooking. Though cooking has changed our bodies, it still has to be learned.

Is cooking then an adaptation? A spandrel? It is not an adaptation in the usual biological sense. It is a "technology", if that is something contrasted with biological adaptation. But cooking is responsible for adaptations, and it is evolutionarily important. We have evolved to be the way we are partly because we cook. So cooking is a technology in something related to Davies's sense, but it is not a technology that has in his phrase "no significant connection" with evolution. Cooking is a learned behavior that is also embedded in our biology. Davies does discuss gene-culture coevolution in his book, but his taxonomy of the options, outlined above, does not have a natural home for it.

Next I'll discuss a more general topic within evolutionary theory, and how Davies handles it. When thinking about practices like art, a question that quickly arises is what role there might be for group-level advantage , a Darwinian selection process operating on groups. From the s onwards, there was a backlash against explanations of this kind in biology, responding to over-use in an earlier generation Williams , Dawkins Intermediate views have since arisen Okasha It is clearly possible for collective entities, groups of various kinds, to succeed in an evolutionary context through the cooperation and even self-sacrifice of lower-level parts that could, in a sense, go their own way; our multicellular bodies are examples.

Natural selection can act at many levels, and often does so simultaneously in the same system. Davies accepts this, but he associates a particular idea with group selection explanations of social behavior: "groups persist and flourish as the result of social rather than biological transmission. Many claim that aesthetic or art practices are evolutionarily significant because they benefit the group.

That is, these theories adopt a commitment to multilevel selection theory and depart from the classical Darwinian model of evolutionary explanation that focuses on individuals or their genes. This is because genetic inheritance provides a strong explanation of the faithful replication of beneficial traits over the long term, assuming the environment is stable; whereas the preservation of group benefits relies on cultural transmission, which is less accurate and reliable pp.

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This is not right. There are many kinds of multilevel evolutionary models. Some make use of genetic means for inheritance, others are cultural, and yet others use mixtures of genetic and cultural transmission Bowles and Gintis Further, even if group-level transmission processes are less "accurate" than genetic inheritance between individuals, this does not show that those group-level processes are thereby "weakened in explanatory power" -- or, at least, that they must be weak causal factors.

The cultural inheritance of languages and norms can be enormously important. Explanations in terms of group benefit are often associated with altruistic behavioral patterns. Genuine altruism -- giving away resources or making sacrifices -- does require special explanation in an evolutionary context. A number of recent discussions of the role of groups in evolution emphasize the role of mutualistic, as opposed to altruistic, behaviors, though. There are various ways of making this divide, but one important consideration is whether a social behavior has a "free rider" problem.

Once most people in a group are engaging in some practice, is it most advantageous for an individual to opt in, or opt out? Are there benefits to be gained from shirking one's responsibilities in a collective project, taking the fruits of others' labors, or would this instead be self-defeating for the individual? Mutualistic behaviors are in the second category.

These patterns of behavior may be hard to initially establish, as they require much coordination, but once the pattern is in place, each individual benefits from going along and there is no problem of free-riding Skyrms , Tomasello , Sterelny Cooperative hunting is an example. Another is communication. If no one is listening, there is no point in talking. But once communication is going on, it's advantageous to be part of it.

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As a result, an evolving population may have both a no-communication equilibrium state, and a communicative one. Similarly, both cooperative hunting and non-cooperative hunting may be equilibria; both patterns of behavior are stable once they are prevalent. When Davies discusses the advantages that art might have in processes of selection, his main options are sexual selection competing for mates and group selection of a strong kind that involves altruism.

But mutualistic behaviors are important possibilities. Some behaviors especially relevant to the origins of art here are ritual behaviors, and coordinative activities in a group such as chant and dancing. Critical mass may be needed for such a behavior to be worth doing, but once it's going on, there is no reason not to be part of the practice. You may then ask: why is there a role here for group-level selection, if the behavior is individually advantageous in these ways?

In response, the following scenario is an important possibility: different communities reach different equilibria with respect to these behaviors, but some of these practices benefit the communities as a whole, with respect to inter-group competition, resistance to extinction, and use of resources, while other equilibria are inefficient, and liable to harm the group's viability.

Stephen Davies (philosopher) - Wikipedia

Then group-level advantage has an important role in change even though individuals in successful groups need not be exhibiting "altruism. I'll look now at Davies's discussion of two theories that others have offered of the relation between art and evolution. Davies rightly takes these views more seriously than he takes various others, though he argues against both.

The first is due to Patel Patel applies his view specifically to music. He opposes the idea that music is a genetically based adaptation. Music, Patel says, is a technology, like fire. Once present, music changes our brains. It changes them in ontogenetic time, the time-scale of individual development.

The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution
The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution
The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution
The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution
The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution
The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution
The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution
The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution
The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution

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