Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Darwinian Theory of Beauty

Philosopher Denis Dutton shares his theory of beauty in this 15 minute TED lecture, illustrated with the white-board animation of Andrew Park.

Dutton dismisses the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder or is somehow connected to ideal form. Instead he takes a Darwinian approach, arguing that our response to beauty is wired into our human existence and our need to find mates.


He describes the ideal pictorial landscape as containing an open vista, with an element of water, a forked tree, and a sampling of wildlife, and a path or a road leading into the distance.
Above: Asher Durand.

This landscape, Dutton argues, is universally appealing across cultures because it appealed to our Pleistocene hunter-gatherer ancestors, presumably scanning for game to feed their mates.

Although I was impressed with Park’s animation, I didn’t find Dutton’s aesthetic theory particularly convincing, nor useful from an artist’s perspective. Part of the problem is semantic. As he says, we are impressed by skilled action, and we call it beautiful. It attracts the girls. Or vice versa.

But what skilled actions are we talking about? Do we include backing a trailer or skateboarding or card-shuffling? What about soccer? These things might be described as “beautiful” only in the loosest sense of the term. Most people wouldn’t include all of them in a definition of art.

And art does not include only skilled action. Many people regard as art certain objects that consciously exhibit a lack of skill: fauve, neo-primitive, and such.

Dutton doesn’t dig very deeply into the nature and the range of the core aesthetic responses, and why those responses might be evolutionarily adaptive. He makes rather unsupportable claims about how he thinks Homo Erectus responded to hand axes. How does he know the axes were art objects? Maybe they were used as money, not art. And how does he know Homo Erectus didn’t have language?  

Dutton’s theory also proposes that natural selection provides for a repulsion reaction to such dangerous things as standing at the edge a cliff. How, then, would Dutton’s theory account for the experience of the sublime, as formulated by aesthetic philosophers such as Edmund Burke? According to Burke, we’re attracted, rather than repulsed, by unsettling and disquieting experiences. (Example above: Wanderer by Caspar David Friedrich.)

Far more convincing—and useful— is Tolstoy’s notion that art is the deliberate transmission of emotion. It applies to dance, theater, painting, music, and all other forms. And it is immensely practical to the working artist, because it provides a clear test for the aesthetic value of a particular work. Tolstoy’s theory is a rich topic, perhaps fodder for a future post. 
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Dutton’s TED lecture on YouTube
Burke’s theory of the sublime
Tolstoy’s essay: “What is Art?”
Related GurneyJourney post: Neuroaesthetics

69 comments:

donm said...

good to see i wasn't the only one not particularly swayed by his theory. i like tolstoy's answer better too. ;)

Steve said...

By coincidence, just yesterday a friend introduced me to the white board work of Andrew Park. Park has done several videos for RSA, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, a group founded over 250 years ago in a coffee shop. This talk on education is thought-provoking:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

mdbauman said...

I had many of the same problems with Dutton's talk. It's a shame that he couldn't talk at greater length in order to account for the discrepancies in the theory. Would love to see a post on Tolstoy — sounds very interesting.

tiffannysketchbook said...

I read part-way though his book The Art Instinct, and his theory did seem like a stretch.

Kyle V Thomas said...

I'll take the artist over the scientist when it comes to definitions of beauty and art.

Geoff Shupe said...

Great food for thought video!

However, as an armchair critique of the idea:
The biggest problems with applying Darwinism to anything that lends itself to a social construct, even a post-modern one, is just the sheer primitive understanding of how evolution works, let alone its effects on psychology. What about punctuated equilibrium, what about catastrophism? There are many aspects that aren't even close to being functionally understood on a basic biological level, let alone any thing above that.

DavidStill said...

I think there might be something to his theory regarding how some basic reactions in us have developed. But art appreciation and the concept of beauty is so much more complex than "nice drawing, I want to have babies with you". Beside, how is it a survival trait for me to appreciate another male's art? There's no way I can make his amazing art genes transfer to me or my offspring.

Kat said...

It appears that Dutton is relying overmuch on the lack of expected wear patterns on some specimens of teardrop-shaped stones. However, it has been observed that monkeys will select certain stones for their particular weight and balance (and even modify them to suit) in order to crack edible nuts. I suspect other uses for the stones, and other explanations for the lack of expected wear patterns, such as perhaps the shards extracted from the stones could be used for arrow tips or other useful items. Or, the stones could have been part of a tribal marimba. Certain stones sound rather nice when struck with a stick or another rock, and the variability in size is provocative.

Also, there is argument as to whether language began with Homo habilis or later and certainly the complexity of animal language would seem to argue for a gradual elaboration (I believe, through the use of musical tones) rather than a sudden appearance of language.

In any case, it is too far a stretch for me to believe that so much labor should be put into a stone at that early date for non-utilitarian purposes. Females of the species under those harsh (nasty, brutish and short) circumstances would probably be more impressed by a guy who could bring home the bacon.

kev ferrara said...

Given that art must always work as a totality, I am always wary when a reductionist takes a crack at defining it. "Scientism" clearly has its limits. When it reaches beyond its natural milieu, and makes bold pronouncements that fail simple test of logic, I think it justly deserves critique.

Personally, I've seen enough "X-ray machine reveals secrets of The Mona Lisa" type stories to last a lifetime.

haikujaguar said...

I'd love to see a post about Tolstoy's theory!

Erik Bongers said...

It's a question that is still bugging me. What is the (Darwinian) purpose of finding an object beautiful?

grobles63 said...

He lost me when he went into the making of these hand axes as art to attract cave-babes.
People have funny notions about art and beauty. Are Rembrandt self portraits beautiful? I think so, but I don't think that he was trying to pick up a mate and I don't think people look at his self portrait thinking what an attractive man. I think the beauty lies in a story of humanity that we can relate to, something that we recognize and share with the artist. But thats the way I see it. I don't like a lot of the paintings some of my friends like and I can disagree even with friends who have tastes similar to mine. I think it is to big a topic to try and sum up in so short a speech.

My Pen Name said...

Dutton is trying to answer a metaphysical question scientifically, or one my say, psuedo-scientifically- natural selection has become the catchall to describe/explain human behavior, just like Freudian theory a few decades ago.

James, and other posters have made some great points..

is universally appealing across cultures because it appealed to our Pleistocene hunter-gatherer ancestors, presumably scanning for game to feed their mates.
I believe he and others were saying that was like the african savanna.. now that out of africa is being seriously challenged.... and i wonder, what evolutionary purpose I have in finding a hard to climb mountain beautiful. Because mountain goat hunting? to impress humanoid babes? Shees. Frankly the guy sounds like a bit of a man who's become a little bit too in love with a theory- economists are notoroius for this.

@haikujaguar - what was tolstoys's theory?

lastly, what about beauty that takes a degree of literacy to understand - like say, a Tolstoy novel - obviously someone with a forth grade reading level won't get much out of it.

I know w/ music I have had to become more 'literate' to hear the beauty in classical, because unlike the visual arts, I don't 'get it' as easily.

I often read the work of scientist theologians one interesting observation they make is that, when theorizing, physicists will often ask (or observe) that the equation, or theory is 'beautiful' and more commonly, 'elegant' - not exactly how we imagine scientists going about things, eh? (the evidence is rarely as clear as one thinks).

Richard said...

I've always preferred a modified Maslow's hierarcy of needs with two tiers physiological and safety. To me art falls under (emotional) safety. We as humans can produce and experience art that represents the full range of human emotions and those strong emotions are trapped safely in a rectangle that can be turned, touched, and safely walked away from. Powerful, yet manageable. Unless you are Dorian Gray.

Kaos said...

I'm not convinced of tha approach Dutton takes on "darwinism" in the understanding of beauty, but let me play a bit of the devil's advocate here.

First of all, Dutton doesn't concentrate on art, but on beauty as a result of the volution of a primitive instrumental notion. This is not that far away from what other people (who have nothing to do with the darwinistic approach) have said describing the idea of beauty of some stages of human history. Umberto Eco in his book "The History of Beauty" states that some cultural objects that where initially not intented for beauty, like motors, iron structures, etc. got the tag of being beautyful at some stage. Eco says that in this first stage of "becomming beautyful", the idea of beauty was indeed attached to the one of usefullnes. A machine could be beautyful if it was a good machine. In time (again following Eco's theory) we refined the notion of beauty in regard of those things and detached it from the shear utility or performance. The core of that idea still remains nevertheles. One has just to think about automovile design or achitecture, both of which have a concept of beauty very closely related to the one of efficiency.

Now, let us return to Dutton. He basically claims beauty is an atribute that's there to attract us to desireable stuff. In my opinion, he focusses to much on sexual attraction, but it's understandable, because it's the same road Darwin walked in order to explain in understandable ideas how a characteristic could survive and evolve through generations. We could also have taken other exaples of things that seem to be "naturally" beautyful, like a ripe fruit. Darwinism could explain us finding it beautyfull (and thus getting some sort of satisfaction from it) because it is good for us. Since all this happens in our subcuncious, we (speaking as a primitive homo whatever) wouldn't distiguish why we find the fruit attractive, so beauty would be nature's mechanism to guide us to good stuff.

In Dutton's example (sexual attraction), he states not that cavemen made handaxes to attract girls (ok, he does, but I think there was a much deeper idea there he didn't explained well). Cavemen made them because looking at a physical manifestation of their skills was pleasant... a rimitive beauty. Since this the axe was a symbolic represenation of desireable qualities in a mate, it became an important tool for natural selection. The origin of this although, has to be understood from a semiotic point of view.
(continues...)

EZ Goodnight said...

Let me preface this long, useless comment by saying I have a BFA in illustration, and I love science--I mean LOVE it. I'm obsessed with Richard Dawkins and his talks on Evolution. Let me give you my perspective on this:

Dutton's talk is not any attempt to say "What is Art?" but rather "Why, evolutionarily speaking, do we make art?" Or, "What are the biological advantages of making art?" I think that's something that is being confused here.

You can take issue with any part of his reasoning, but Tolstoy's theory, as well as likely any other discussed in the Philosophy of Art, don't really discuss this question. In fact, they try to describe what art is at the current moment as we currently understand it. Most writers on the Philosophy of Art, it seemed to me, were interested in more accurately defining the term "Art."

Re: "How does he know the axes were art objects? Maybe they were used as money, not art. And how does he know Homo Erectus didn’t have language?"

There are entire branches of Science dedicated to this sort of study. They're called Anthropologists, and they've spent their entire lives asking those questions the same way you've spent your entire life becoming a painter. I think if they were money, a professor of Anthropology would have made this claim to Dutton long ago. They seem unwieldy and unlikely as a kind of money to me, and likely go back further than we would believe the concept of money goes back in human history.

As far as Homo Erectus having language? I don't know that answer, but I imagine he is peer reviewed by biologists and anthropologists, at least to some degree, to get on the stage at TED. I'm willing to trust him on that one until I see evidence to the contrary, as it doesn't seem entirely too devastating a point. (I mean, I'm sure they had some form of communicating, but Homo Erectus was not a far shot from any garden variety ape.)

Re: "As he says, we are impressed by skilled action, and we call it beautiful. It attracts the girls. Or vice versa."

Evolution is not necessarily simply about getting to the finish line of procreation. It's also about giving decedents a better chance at survival. He says that we can tell certain things about a person that makes art--that they have skills and brainpower capable of doing such a thing, and that by liking those objects, we are evolutionarily selecting those qualities in people.

Art and Science necessarily define human beings, as we are the only animal that, as we know it, create such things. How do we explain why we do it and nobody else on Earth, including animals that share most of our DNA, don't?

I personally like this "skilled action" explanation, because it shows us how each side of the equation is shaped. Liking skilled actions attracts us to DNA more likely to be skilled and intelligent, and creating skilled, intelligent things pushes us closer to passing on our DNA.

Re: "And art does not include only skilled action. Many people regard as art certain objects that consciously exhibit a lack of skill: fauve, neo-primitive, and such."

Not to be mean about it, but this is your weakest point. You're talking about a MODERN movement of art, he's talking about human ancestry hundreds of thousands of years ago. It's like saying "what's the evolutionary advantage of chartered accountants?"

It's going back to the "What is art?" question when he's trying to answer the "What are the biological advantages of making art?" question. These art movements are attempting to say something about what art is, and that it is separate from skill. That does not change what our ancestors used "art" for. It's sort of like how R. Mutt's "Fountain" doesn't make Da Vinci not important, in a small way.

EZ Goodnight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EZ Goodnight said...

Sorry for multiple posts. My comment is too long, and Blogger is being weird. Here's the last bit.

Re: "Dutton doesn’t dig very deeply into the nature and the range of the core aesthetic responses, and why those responses might be evolutionarily adaptive."

I'm curious as to what exactly you mean here. I think his theory shows why humans would evolve the liking of art very well--is this just another example of "What is art" versus "What are the biological advantages of making art?" It seems this question is from a modern artist's perspective.

Re: "How, then, would Dutton’s theory account for the experience of the sublime, as formulated by aesthetic philosophers such as Edmund Burke? According to Burke, we’re attracted, rather than repulsed, by unsettling and disquieting experiences."

This is an interesting point, although it seems out of scope for Dutton's talk. It's sort of the rollercoaster theory, isn't it? We're attracted to the feeling of danger or fear, and this seems like a very good question. It does seem like it has its own evolutionary roots, and is only tangled up in our modern understanding of "Art" coincidentally.

I'd like to hear you expound on this point, so I could understand it better.

Finally, Re: "Far more convincing—and useful— is Tolstoy’s notion that art is the deliberate transmission of emotion."

You can look at the "What is Art" question in any way that suits you. And I do think that this point is, at least, somewhat valid. Art IS about communication, because, in at least our modern understanding of it, it says something that cannot be easily said in words. Early man could have easily benefited from that method of communication.

However, we can't deny the fact that we are biological organisms that that there necessarily HAS to be a reason for us to have evolved the ability to create art. I mean, we are organisms, and we create art.

While it is useful, as an artist, to think of art this way, it does not overturn Dutton's theory in any small way. The "What is art" question is for every artist, a personal question.

However, we all have common ancestry, and that question is not a personal one. No philosopher can overturn a billion years of evolution with a theory that describes the end product of that evolution.

My Pen Name said...

However, we can't deny the fact that we are biological organisms that that there necessarily HAS to be a reason for us to have evolved the ability to create art. I mean, we are organisms, and we create art.?
I am more interested in physics than biology - why do my sub-atomic particles want to do that in the first place?
Natural selection might explain hows, but not whys that's not a scientific question, it is a metaphysical one.
That's where dawkins makes one of his many and frequent mistakes. He's a reductionist with an 18th century clockwork view of the universe.

Personally, I don't believe we are simply animated pieces of meat. Nor do I find such a view helpful to living.

I like theologian NT Wright's take:
The arts are not pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.

Petr Mores said...

James, it would be very interesting to hear your thoughts on Tolstoy's theory. As far as I know, it has been as widely rejected by theorists as it was embraced by practicioners.

In regards to the talk: let's consider Hubble telesecope images, which show some of the most exquisitely beautiful natural formations. Yet, our appreciation of colors and shapes of the distant nebulas cannot be possibly explained by evolution (neither by cultural conditioning).

My Pen Name said...

Dutton's talk is not any attempt to say "What is Art?" but rather "Why, evolutionarily speaking, do we make art?" Or, "What are the biological advantages of making art?"
fair enough but it still may be the a question that is putting a metaphysical concept in a small, biological box... or reductionist. Does anyone here REALLY believe that love is simply a gene firing to ensure species cohesion/protection? any parents here really believe you love your child simply because your DNA makes you do so?

My Pen Name said...

Yet, our appreciation of colors and shapes of the distant nebulas cannot be possibly explained by evolution
Petr never underestimate the power of mind in love with a theory!

Paul Johnson famously called an intellectual someone who loved ideas more than people. Don't know about that, but there are certainly many people more in love with their theories than reality or common sense.

Don Cox said...

I think Tolstoy's theory fits in well with natural selection. It is an advantage to a tribe of humans to be able to communicate not only facts and hunting tactics (using words), but also emotions (using art and poetry and music). It brings the tribe together.

If a tribe operates more successfully, its numbers will increase.

Anyway, a theory from a great artist such as Tolstoy carries more weight than one from a scientist or critic with no practical experience.

I would say "It doesn't matter what art is, just get on with it."

Sexual selection does seem to have something to do with the art of Boucher or Bouguereau.

buchwalderpenn said...

Evolution, really? It's time for this hilariously naive theory to be put to a long-deserved grave. The only thing the theory of evolution has taught us is the human propensity to cling to pet theories and philosophies in the face of the truth. It's amusing to watch the abject fear and panic in the face of a Richard Dawkins or Stephen Gould when you even suggest there are fatal flaws in Evolutionary theory.

Brooks Hansen said...

I actually, coincidentally, just taught the Tolstoy essay. Worth noting there is the fact that Tolstoy wrote the piece during one of his late Christian periods, as result of which he also disavowed pretty much all of his previous work, save two short stories (one being GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS). WAR AND PEACE and ANNA KARENINA, by the author's own reckoning? Not really art.

Steve said...

Brooks, I wonder if the other short story Tolstoy let stand as art was "Where Love Is, God Is." It was the basis for an early Will Vinton claymation short, "Martin the Cobbler."

kev ferrara said...

Evolution is a decent theory. Most scientists acknowledge that we aren't exactly sure how it all works. Which is why it is called A theory. But it has great explanatory power. And everything we are seeing in genetics and developmental biology points back to some kind of evolutionary process.

I think we must accept what our research tells us sometimes, buchwalderpenn. Even if the research is imperfect and it seems to dispute the "revealed truths" of one's religion.

Mocking the thought of evolution does not defeat the theory. It merely destroys the ability of others to debate the issue with you.

EZ Goodnight said...

@Pen Name: Not trying to antagonize you, but I want to respond to your comments. Everything I've written here is now directed at you.

@Gurney: Sorry to have this discussion on your blog like this. I have a feeling we're going to get our comments deleted!

Re: I am more interested in physics than biology - why do my sub-atomic particles want to do that in the first place?
Natural selection might explain hows, but not whys that's not a scientific question, it is a metaphysical one.
That's where dawkins makes one of his many and frequent mistakes. He's a reductionist with an 18th century clockwork view of the universe.


What would you offer as a counter to the "Clockwork view" of the universe? It's a view that Issac Newton perpetuated long before the 18th century. The "Clockwork" theory was created in a time when clockwork was the greatest technology. When geometry was the greatest technology, the greeks viewed the world as the geometric universe.

Do you know what people view the universe as now? "The Cosmic Computer." It's a pattern in that we view the world through the lens of our technology. Paul Davies talked about it in his absolutely excellent book "The Mind of God."

And I'm pretty sure Dawkins lives pretty firmly in the 21st century with the rest of us. He simply thinks the "why" questions it sounds like you're talking about are irrelevant. I don't see that as a mistake, personally. I think Richard Feynman once said that not all questions were as important as others--in a lot of situations, "why" is too big a question to provide any relevant answers.

Re: Personally, I don't believe we are simply animated pieces of meat. Nor do I find such a view helpful to living.

That's fine, and you are free to feel this way. I have no trouble believing my own form of this--in fact it makes me feel incredibly thankful for the astronomical unlikely circumstances that allow me to be alive in the first place. I'm quite happy with this view.

The fact of the matter is, this view allows us to actually make progress and explain the world around us. Because it works, I can accept it, even percieved ugly parts of it. Sagan called them "the great demotions."

Re: it still may be the a question that is putting a metaphysical concept in a small, biological box... or reductionist. Does anyone here REALLY believe that love is simply a gene firing to ensure species cohesion/protection? any parents here really believe you love your child simply because your DNA makes you do so?

You throw that word "reductionist" around like the Tea Party throws around the word "Socialist." Descarte was famous for Dualism, but believed that animals could be explained with reductionist behavior.

And, yes, "love" is a concept we have evolved to help us survive and raise better children. It's why we prize familial love and love of spouses--it protects DNA for the next generation.

Grizzly bears and Hamsters eat their children--if love was a universal concept, wouldn't they be a little more moral about it?

Re: Petr never underestimate the power of mind in love with a theory!

That's awful reductionist of you. :p

T Arthur Smith said...

Fauvism doesn't represent a lack of skill, but merely the pursuit of a different skill set. It makes sense that our attitudes toward beauty stem from evolution. All the different emotions that Tolstoy talk about also have origins in evolution. We wouldn't feel emotions if it didn't contribute to our survival. And our attraction to danger has risk theories of its own, all relating to evolution.

But I don't think that can explain it all. There's evolution, by which we strengthen our chances of passing on genes, but then there's the harsh reality of life on Earth, which we humans have (accidentally) grown smart enough to realize. A lot of the things we do, from making art, getting too drunk at parties, starting fights, dressing up like Harry Potter, theorizing and debunking evolution, etc, are just random ways in which imperfect minds wrestle with and suffer through an equally imperfect world.

EZ Goodnight said...

@Don Cox, Re: I think Tolstoy's theory fits in well with natural selection. It is an advantage to a tribe of humans to be able to communicate not only facts and hunting tactics (using words), but also emotions (using art and poetry and music). It brings the tribe together.

You really get it, sir. I'm sure you don't want to wade through that epic poem I wrote in poor Gurney's comments earlier--but I said pretty much that. Art is indeed about communication, and it HAS to have been important to early man inexactly the way you say.

EZ Goodnight said...

@T Arthur Smith: Well said!

Oran P. Kelley said...

Dutton's talk is not any attempt to say "What is Art?" but rather "Why, evolutionarily speaking, do we make art?" Or, "What are the biological advantages of making art?" I think that's something that is being confused here.

First, I think you are wrong: in his book he is explicitly trying to explain the origin AND outlines of our aesthetic response.

Dutton is not, after all, a scientist. He's not interested in the question of aesthetics from a scientific point of view. He's interested in redefining aesthetics using scientific concepts like evolution.

The assumption is that evolution is simple enough and well-understood enough that it brings an immediate definition to aesthetic thought: it doesn't.

Just think about a question like "Why, chemically speaking, do we make art?" or "Why, from the standpoint of Newtonian physics, do we make art?"

Our existence and everything we do, including art, is governed by chemical and physical laws. But these questions are stupid and unproductive. Why? Because nothing that's interesting about art is elucidated through looking at its Newtonian underpinnings.

And what new do we learn by looking at its Darwininan underpinnings? Once again, surprisingly little.

Why? Because art is not interesting as something that appeals to some "beauty instinct." It is interesting as an expressive artifact within a very complex social and cultural environment; an environment within which art is a means of communication, a social currency, a means of identity formation blah blah blah.

Dutton's theory, quite simply, has nothing interesting to say. No more than a theory of Art and chemical respiration would.

Kaos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaos said...

(... part 2)
Now, as I said, I don't fully agree with the man, for I don't think our current concept of beauty is a simple game of action-reaction to certain symbolic elements. Natural beauty seems o be more connected to this primitive part of us, but other forms of expression, like art are a bit more complex.

Now, returning to my role as devil'd advocate, the point of "skillfully executed" should be replaced by "charged of symbolic eaning to our subcounscient". A piece of art (or anny other cultural product) can be a reflection of manny other aspects of the artist/maker that are not directly related to his skill in executing a certain technique, but are as important to a modern observer.

Let's take the example of Art Spiegelman's "Maus". A lot of people (I'm not one of them, so don't stone me) find his graphic style poor, simple or unskilled. I'm sure manny artists who cultuvate a simple style are constantly given the old "my little son could draw that" line. But even so, manny of those people find beauty in Spiegelman's work, because of other aspects. It reflects the artist's capacity to understand a certain thema, to process it and tell it. All these are attributes related to intelligence; something humans tend to find atractive.
(...)

EZ Goodnight said...

@Oran: This is a good, thought-provoking response to what I've said, but I disagree. To say we learn nothing from this? Ridiculous.

I can see what you're saying about Dutton not being a scientist, and that's a fair cop. He is a philosopher, sure. I simply see this as scientifically sound and that it's rational to look at anything involving the mind or organisms in this light.

I think the point you're making is a rather strange one, with "aesthetic thought" bordering on mysticism or magic. You simply proclaiming evolution cannot explain the nuances of human understanding of art doesn't make it so.

I can appreciate that, as he approaches it, his theory may have its weak points or be incomplete. That does't mean that it doesn't have merit. Even Einstein's theories have been proven wrong (in smaller ways) and modified over time.

Still, I think to say that approaching our understanding of art from an evolutionary perspective is "meaningless," "stupid" and "unproductive" is like saying trying to understand human thought from an evolutionary standpoint is "stupid." It's not. There are scores of books written on the evolution of human intelligence. I see this as a key part of it.

In my eye, the way he presents it could mean that this evolutionary appreciation of beauty/art could have been one of the early driving forces behind the evolution of human intelligence. (And I mean strictly HUMAN intelligence, not mammalian intelligence, etc.) As an artist, it makes me smile to think that art is actually so important it more or less was kickstarted the evolution of human intelligence.

And those questions you ask? Simply because they are useless questions to you don't make them useless to the rest of us. They might be good questions for somebody studying the mind on a quantum/chemical level.

They make good sense to me. I'm perfectly fine approaching the question from different disciplines. To thump your chest and say it doesn't work because you don't like it says you have problems with the answer, not that there's anything wrong with the theory itself.

EZ Goodnight said...

@Oran, even more crap. Sorry.

Re: Why? Because art is not interesting as something that appeals to some "beauty instinct." It is interesting as an expressive artifact within a very complex social and cultural environment; an environment within which art is a means of communication, a social currency, a means of identity formation blah blah blah.

To ascribe art this status you're giving it here is to say that it is too complex--basically magic. You can say that, but that's either a cop out or like giving up.

In the end, we are organic, living creatures. Evolution explains it in this context. Perhaps not perfectly, but we refine theories, not throw babies out with bathwater.

Besides, what you're describing is a more modern understanding of art. ART HAS EVOLVED. It is not what it was to our early ancestors.

I think explaining our WANT to create art is what this theory seeks to do. It doesn't define art the way Philosophy tries to do. The Philosophy of art is very much about the time the Philosopher is from. Tolstoy wrote about art from his own perspective, modern art Philosophers wrote about it from a Modernist perspective--it's all subjective.

Dutton's is an attempt to view it from a biological perspective, which to me, is more correct because it is objective, at least for those of us that share common ancestry. (Intelligent creatures that didn't evolve this way might hate our art or not understand it. We have evolved a "gestalt" that allows us to appreciate art--I can easily imagine an alien that doesn't understand music the way we do because they didn't have ancestry that evolved to value it. To them, even the greatest symphonies would be strange rhythmic noises.)

BTW, have you read his book? I have not, I've only seen this video. I like this skeletal version of his argument and I think I might enjoy the book. I'm sorry it doesn't work for you, but I personally think you're approaching it from the wrong way. But that is my opinion.

Kat said...

I would argue that art itself has evolved in purpose. Bowerbirds are artists of an exceedingly high order, even to the point of using color and specific size arrangement to trick the eyes of his would-be mate, to lead her into his exquisitely constructed den. So yes, art, either made or acquired, has adaptive benefits with respect to sexual selection. But it also serves in communication, social cohesion, information transmission, aesthetic pleasure, and many more purposes that have evolved as human societies have evolved. That part of it all seems rather simple and noncontroversial.

I just have issues with assuming that the shaped stones in question had no other use than as objets d'art. Dutton did not sufficiently support that view in my opinion. The items could as easily have been, say, religious artifacts -- totems if you will.

By the way, in science, a Theory is much more than an hypothesis (we don't do "Laws" anymore). A Theory is an overarching explanation that makes sense of the observed facts on the ground and that can make accurate predictions. Darwin's great Theory of Evolution has never yet encountered a single piece of real evidence that disproved it, so it stands as fact. As with all nature, we continue to learn more each day about mechanisms of action, but the Theory remains intact. All of biology and medicine is organized upon it, so each time you go to a doctor, you are tacitly accepting it.

By the way, physics is still awaiting its Darwin. A unified field theory is still a ways off.

Realize that electromagnetism is a Theory, yet we are all utilizing it to an extremely intricate degree right now. Oh, and quantum mechanics, too.

EZ Goodnight said...

@Kat: I wish I wasn't so involved in this discussion. It's just SO DAMNED INTERESTING!

You response is so right on, IMHO. You are very scientifically literate and it makes me smile whenever I encounter that.

I agree with the weird point on the handaxes. It is a bit of a stretch to make the claim they are art objects--he's really making an assumption. I think religious object is equally likely, if we can attribute religion to Homo Erectus.

Brooks Hansen said...

Steve, according to this -

http://www1.umn.edu/lol-russ/PopLit/tolstoy's_god_sees_the_truth,_but_waits.htm

- the other story that Tolstoy continued to stand by even after his spiritual crisis was THE PRISONER OF THE CAUCASUS, which I have not read. Maybe now I will. But I'll check on WHERE LOVE IS, GOD IS. Certainly can't hurt. (And it's also possible he wrote the WHERE GOD IS after the crisis.)

Brooks Hansen said...

I should say, I have read GOD SEE THE TRUTH, and on that limited basis would hazard the reason for the exception that Tolstoy makes on its behalf is not (sadly) that it is the only prior work of his that properly infects the reader with emotion, but that the specific emotions that it infects us with are the most overtly "Christian" to his way of thinking. In other words, I suspect (not being a real scholar on the subject) that his repudiation of all the rest is based upon what the Russians would eventually come to call the "decadence" of the work and its appeal. He may, that is to say, have recognized that ANNA KARENINA infects the reader with emotions - and to that degree may be called art - but lamented that the emotions at question were…decadent.

Kat said...

@EZ Goodnight: Indeed, I was trained as a biologist and worked in wilderness management and science education. I have drawn and painted all my life, however.

In my opinion, science illiteracy will doom us all if it isn't rapidly reversed. Science is not only creative and beautiful, it is the best way humans have devised to encounter truth. My love and awe of nature is immensely expanded by it. Biodiversity loss is at code red, and the main people working to save this unique biological heritage of planet Earth, the only living planet that we know of in the Universe, are biologists. There is no cause as vital as this, right now.

I find the anti-science attitude darkly amusing: these folks express it by hammering away at the keyboards of their reliable science-created modern technology.

Kaos said...

(... let's see if I can finally post part 3)

So, it could maybe not be so crazy to say we find beauty in things that give us certain "pleasure", and that this pleasure is triggered by our inconscient understanding of it being a symbol of something desireable.

That would be a simple way to put it. Of course, I agree that at least art is much more complex. Art as a vessel for emotion is a much better description for it, since it also can be based on making the viewer or listener uneasy, to provoque or even to attack him and/or his ideas, beliefs, etc. But, then again, not all art is about beauty. That's why I insited in aboarding all this darwinistic approach from the point of view of beauty, not of art or culture.

Interesting point of view. I'm still not shure how much of it is solid, but I believe it can't be taken as a single self-standing explanation for the experience of beauty. Maybe it can help explainig some of it, but always in combination with other points of view.

.. By the way, please excuse my bad English. I'm not native speaker and I usually don't write much in your language.

EZ Goodnight said...

@Kat: You're better off than me, then. I'm simply a nerd that reads a lot of layman-level science books.

I don't want to agree with your scientific literacy doom comment... but it's the grizzly truth. People don't want to agree with scientific authority, even though they give us GPS devices and antibiotics with the very science they deny.

It's a sad fact about human brains that we entrench ourselves deeper in our delusions when we are confront information that disagrees with our worldview. It's a tough, challenging thing to evaluate things objectively. I know I'm not always great at it.

Kat said...

@EZ Goodnight: Indeed, a thoroughgoing examination of the mechanics of denial would be immensely useful... perhaps even Life-saving. We've become almost like a cancer in the body of Earth denying that the body can die and our vaunted immortality perish along with it.

My Pen Name said...

Do you know what people view the universe as now? "The Cosmic Computer.
who are these people you refer to? ..."Clocks and clouds "

You throw that word "reductionist" around like the Tea Party throws around the word "Socialist."
ok, gratuitous insult, but it does reflect on you a little." See how clever I am everyone I am on of those bible banging tea party members". Ok we got the message, you think you're clever.
I was pointing out that people can become so in love with ideas the ignore or distort realty. Your hero Richard Dawkins is a perfect example:

Here's a quote from his site:
Imagine, sang John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Kashmir dispute, no Indo/Pakistan partition, no Israel/Palestine wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no Northern Ireland 'troubles'.
This is so mind numbingly ignorant of history, and current geopolitical conflict I scarcely believe an adult wrote it.

It also deadly, as deadly as Dawkin's idealogical predecessors,the French "republic', and the Bolsheviks.


And I'm pretty sure Dawkins lives pretty firmly in the 21st century with the rest of us.
And what about people who believe in God?

He simply thinks the "why" questions it sounds like you're talking about are irrelevant.
Spends an awful lot of time dwelling on them then, writing books on how silly/stupid/superstitious people are for believing it, calling people who teach their children religion a form of child abuse... and all the while he is remarkably ignorant of what he writes about.

I don't see that as a mistake, personally.That's fine. Your universe is essentially pointless.

And, yes, "love" is a concept we have evolved to help us survive and raise better children. It's why we prize familial love and love of spouses--it protects DNA for the next generation.
Ill let your words stand on their own.

I have a little theory I'd like to test out though...
You believe that love the desire to protect DNA .. and it has 'evolved' for that purpose. Do you believe intelligence is inherited? If so how would account for the disparity between races - the thought that got James Watson so much trouble?

From your tea party comment, I suspect you will find this little part of evolution ideologically untenable.

EZ Goodnight said...

@Pen Name: This is going to be my last reply to you here. If you wish to debate me, I think we're actually being quite rude to Gurney and his blog. I'm enjoying this conversation quite a lot, but it would annoy the crap out of me if people posted this many comments on my blogger account. Follow my Blogger name link and email me. I have plenty to say in reply to your last comment, but I gain nothing by retorting your comments in public. I'm happy to continue the conversation, however.

My Pen Name said...

@ Kat I find the anti-science attitude darkly amusing: these folks express it by hammering away at the keyboards of their reliable science-created modern technology.

@exgoodnightPeople don't want to agree with scientific authority,

Science is not a religion. Once should not use religion as a science, but it is equally foolish to treat science as a religion.

Scientist are human - and as humans corrupt, dishonest, selfish, ambitious. Look at the climate email scandal - doesn't matter what side of the fence you are on that argument - there was a clear effort to suppress dissenting view points.

Perhaps a less inflammatory example would be nutrition 'food science' if you will, the debates on this or that vitamin, fat, etc.

Physics has seen the newtonian world view superseded by relatively then quantum mechanics..

the way you defend evolution is as a be all and end all, as you say, the universes and nature are lot more complex than we can conceive and there is still much to be discovered, but ask yourselves if you would really be open to anything challenging this theory.

But this natural selection/evolution, as i mentioned in my first post, is quite trendy now to analyze all aspects of human behavior, the same way freudian psychology was a few years ago - poo pooing anyone who disagrees with what is clearly speculation is the mark of dogma.

as i said earlier I am more interested in physics than biology - why do my sub-atomic particles want to do that in the first place?

Science is not only creative and beautiful, it is the best way humans have devised to encounter truth.
umm it is one way not the best or only way. Again, truth as a metaphysical concept cannot be tested in a laboratory.

phiq said...

*yawn*

Oran P. Kelley said...

To ascribe art this status you're giving it here is to say that it is too complex--basically magic. You can say that, but that's either a cop out or like giving up.

No, not at all, unless you content that anything we cannot explain scientifically *right now* is magic. Which I'd say is a fundamentally unscientific attitude.

To me the sine qua non of science is the willingness to say "we don't know yet."

Dutton seems extremely reluctant to say this.

And if this approach is productive, as you contend, why not provide a novel and interesting interpretation of a piece of art based on this approach?

I've read Dutton's book, and I don't remember running across one there, but maybe you or someone else can turn up something I missed.

Roberto said...

So…
Darwin, Tolstoy, and Picasso go into this bar, it’s called the ‘E-Z-Night Inn.’
After a long night of trash-talk, drunkenness, and cruelty, Darwin announces that the party is on him, and he slaps a stone-axe down on the bar.
The barkeep say’s: “We don’t accept that currency in these parts any more buddy, what are you tryin’ to pull?”
“Don’t look at me” says Tolstoy, “All I have is this Novel: ‘Warren P’s’ and I don’t even like it anymore”
“You artists are all alike” says the barkeep.
Well one thing leads to another and pretty soon the place is in total Kaos!
The door bursts open… It’s the Art-Police!
“Hold it right there!’ says the cop, “you’re all under Aesthetic Arrest!”
Some guy in the corner with a unicycle says “Wait a minute, I’m innocent! I’ve got a license, an artistic license.”
“We have reason to believe you started all this, your all goin’ down!” says the cop.
So off they all go, all except Picasso. In all of the confusion he slipped out the back door with, the bar-maid, Anna, and was last seen in a café in the French-quarter, drinking absinthe and throwing money around like he had a printing press in the basement.

@Jimmy G.: Once again your blogosphere and its blogophiles have contributed to a very interesting journey! -RQ

Roberto said...

P.S. @Steve
Thanx for the RSA link. It is TOTALLY right-on! -RQ

Kat said...

@MyPenName: Oh dear, everywhere, a bridge too far. Science is not a religion but a way of producing verifiable knowledge that all of us rely upon to the ultimate degrees. We all bet our lives on it every single day. So yes, you do agree with scientific authority, whether you admit it or not.

Science has a wonderful way of rooting out human error via peer review and confirmation of results. Bad science is weeded out when other scientists performing the same experiments in the same way cannot replicate the results. This has proved to be a particularly robust check on human foibles.

The IPCC scientists were completely cleared of all wrongdoing in the email controversy. However, the oil companies (the most powerful special interest in the history of mankind) got what they paid for by betting on science illiteracy.

As Richard Feynman famously once said, "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics". Quantum mechanics is a set of (rather bizarre) observations about matter, not an overarching Theory on the nature of physical reality. Quantum mechanics is incompatible with relativity and yet both are true, so a Theory of Everything has not yet been arrived at. There are lots of ideas, but they remain speculative until there is solid observation to back any of them up. Hopefully the Large Hadron Collider can offer some insights. But alas, physics still awaits its Darwin.

Indeed, many physicists are looking to evolution as a fundamental principle in the formation of the Universe (or universes). It's a bit difficult to argue with the basic premise that that which persists, persists.

The word "science" means "knowledge". So, yes, science is the best way that humans have yet devised to gain human knowledge. History can be pieced together by written accounts and archeological finds, but archeology is increasingly dependent upon other sciences such as geology, biology, and physics.

Natural truth is not metaphysical by definition and is eminently suited to the scientific method.

When you come up with a metaphysical truth (other than mathematics), please let us know.

James Gurney said...

Lots of interesting ideas here. BTW, gang, it’s OK with me if the discussion expands beyond Dutton’s lecture to larger issues like evolution, as long as no one goes ad hominem. Sorry I’ve been a bit aloof from the discussion, but I just haven’t had much time online lately. But you’re all contributing thoughtful and passionate ideas, and it’s fine with me if the comments are a place for open discussion, and even off-topic sidelines. The only thing I delete are robotic Viagra ads and tennis shoe spam, which just take up space (but I can leave them up if you want them).

Roberto: Loved your “Darwin, Tolstoy, and Picasso go into this bar...”

Kat, I’m glad you mentioned bowerbirds, because they come to mind as “artlike” behavior in non-humans. Do you know if their nest-making displays are hard-wired or learned? Either way, it still looks like art, and it definitely operates with the mechanism of sexual selection. Penny Patterson and others have demonstrated a clear love of spontaneous representational painting among captive gorillas. And seals do those fun things with bubble rings. So something like art or beauty or enjoyment of skillful non-utilitarian action may extend beyond our human experience. Or you could argue that the seals and gorillas are essentially playing, practicing social or hunting skills in another context.

I appreciate that some of you mentioned how Tolstoy’s essay came from a late period of his life and should be taken with a grain of salt. I personally disagree with his attack on opera at the beginning of the essay. I think great opera meets his definition of art.

In order for Dutton’s “Darwinian-Aesthetics” hypothesis to be really convincing, it has to answer the question: Is there really something functional, something practical, about our love of art? Do we need it to survive? That’s the classic test of Darwinian natural selection. And it’s funny, because many of the definitions of art have hinged on art being a non-functional activity.

Not finding an answer in natural selection, Dutton turns to Darwin’s “peacock-tail mechanism”—sexual selection. I think he should have stayed with natural selection. As some of you pointed out, the Lascaux cave paintings could easily be read as hunter’s notes. Fertility figures could be regarded as reinforcers of successful social norms. And watching a Bushman hunting party using non-verbal signs during a tracking party seems pretty darn much like art. No surprise that we develop an emotional resonance to all such activities. It seems to me, although I can’t prove it, that artists as storytellers contribute mightily to the success of both the society and the individual.

So whether you believe in evolution or not, maybe we can all agree that art can be seen as a vital and central activity to our very survival (listen up, school budget committees).

T Arthur Smith said...

"Is there really something functional, something practical, about our love of art? Do we need it to survive?"

Every time I hear that question, I feel like the answer is so self evident, why don't people see it? It's simple, imagine a world without art. Imagine all the TV's in every house disappearing all at once. All the cinemas, museums, galleries, books. Any creative endeavor you could possibly dwell on, gone. What would that world look like, and what would people do? The place would most closely resemble a prison. How would it effect the human psyche? Go to your nearest prison and observe people in solitary confinement.

The best argument I've heard so far against Dutton comes from artist Chris Bennett on conceptart.org (a parallel discusson of the video). By Dutton's definition of beauty, Fred Astaire's dance would be even more beautiful if he was balancing a chamberpot on his head - because it'd be even more skillful.

Chris maintains that what we find beautiful isn't simply in seeing something done well, but done right. That this creates a sense of completeness that gives us pleasure - it becomes a metaphor of sorts, for perfection. He explains it much better than I can, but the idea is, when something like the Venus De Milo is done right, it satisfies us to the point where, even when the limbs are broken off, we still see their phantom in the pose of the figure, and nothing is lost.

Kat said...

@James: I personally believe that music and art are fundamentally responsible for human culture. I contend that music provided a method to recall long passages of words for the transmission of human stories and information beyond a single generation in the form of songs (music is a potent amplifier of memory) and without art, no common written symbols could have emerged to unify a group and allow for transmission of information even into the deep future. And more elaborate artistic expressions could have served as a universal language to communicate beyond a given language, between tribes, allowing groups to enlarge into coordinated groups that could build, cultivate, etc.

I think people disregard the arts at their peril.

Yours is the best blog on the net, in my opinion. Thank you so much for everything you do, the disproportionate amount of joy you bring.

Kat said...

@James: Sorry, I neglected to respond to your question. Bowerbirds are corvids -- the smartest and most inventive of birds. I don't know how much of the behavior is hard wired, but indications are that the general bower-building behavior is de rigeur while individual males choose the specific unique ornamentation according to preference or what he thinks will best please the females. The arrangements are very deliberate, as attempts by researchers to rearrange items result in the birds spending a great deal of time replacing the items in the precise previously chosen arrangement. They are capable of remarkable illusioneering via the placement of variously sized objects to create a sort of reverse perspective that leads the female in.

Interestingly, many bowerbirds are also expert mimics, not unlike the lyrebird.

I am one of those that believes that animals are far more conscious, aware, intelligent, and flexible (and many also have culture) than most humans will allow. I've observed cultural transmission even in squirrels.

By the way, how's the budgie?

academic said...

congrats! keep up the good work/this is a great presentation.
oil painting

James Gurney said...

Kat, thanks for that thoughtful answer. The budgie, Mr. Kooks, is doing fine, after his month-long stay with the bird sitter. He picked up some exotic calls from neighboring parrots and macaws.

Thomas said...

From the blogpost: "And how does he know Homo Erectus didn’t have language?"

Science can know (to reasonable certainty) from which time humans started to talk. You can see this on the construction of our brain and speech organs.

I still agree with most of your other points. Also interesting replies here - i.e. the discussion "what is science" - but I think, the TED-Talk is an example of very bad science. No evidence, no testable predictions... just random guessing. IMO, not science at all.

What we can for example not see is what those humans found beautiful - I was thinking of how I find seashells much more interesting and beautiful than his example of stone axes. That completely doesn't fit the theory. And if he really talks about things happening millions of years ago: He has no clue of what other items they had, which just didn't last as well as stones.

Was about to write an angry blog post about this too - but I guess I can save the time. :)

There was this BBC documentary "How Art made the World", which has way more convincing arguments - even when using evolution. A great show, I can really recommend it.

Thomas said...

@Kat: I think you're equating science and knowledge too much. Much knowledge can come without science - actually most of our every day knowledge that we really use is learned in other ways.

Check maybe Nassim Nicholas Taleb writings about that. His upcoming book will be a lot about it.

I think art especially is something that is learned by doing and trying - much less by explaining. Blogs like this one here are interesting and helpful, but for the most part we have a very hard time to explain what goes on when making art. One could read all the best art books in the world - and would still guaranteed to be bad at art when picking up the pencil for the first time.

Kat said...

@Thomas: Look up the definition of "science". The scientific method deserves to be studied, as it is used unconsciously by intelligent people all the time.

Science is about trying to discover what can be relied upon and what works, whether one believes in it or not.

Skill can often be best attained via observation, experimentation, modifying one feature at a time, repetition, etc.

It is not a coincidence that Leonardo was both a great scientist and arguably the world's premier draftsman. Reading his notebooks gives an insight into his detailed and advanced use of observation and experimentation. His didactics are as good today as they were then.

Sorry, I probably won't be reading Mr Taleb. I have absolutely zero interest in economics and finance. As to his broader points, there is always a tension between type 1 and type 2 errors. Error correction is in itself a major facet of science. And remember: even the three body problem has yet to be solved.

Thomas said...

@Kat: I don't see how your reply goes counter to what I said. The definition of the scientific method is rather supporting that not all knowledge can be gathered by science.
Anything that happens only once for example. You cannot make predictions and experiments when there is no repetition.
All history is a field where there is no repetition.
Maybe art is too - you make an artwork once. You can maybe copy it but the creative part will not repeat.

And I think Taleb is worth a closer look than that. He barely ever writes about economics and finance in his books - but much more about where the limits of science and empiricism are.

Kat said...

@Thomas: In one of my previous comments, I excluded history as a form of knowledge vulnerable to the scientific method. This is why I would be less impressed with what an economist would say about science -- economy and finance are, to me, a form of history rather than science, dismal or not. How can one run proper experiments? Economics can be crudely modeled and examined, but if the 3 body problem hasn't even been solved, then it seems to me a weird form of voodoo to think there's a science that can accurately explain billions of irrational human beings running madly after lucre.

I also regard the fixation on free markets and capitalism as a form of religion. Manna-ism, if you will.

I tend to look at economics in an organismic sort of way: money is like the glucose in a body that at the moment is suffering from fatty liver and diabetes.

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

@Kat "This is why I would be less impressed with what an economist would say about science..."

Heh, you're less impressed of what you imagine he has to say - not by what he actually says :)

Anyways you are pretty much with him when you say there are limits of empiricism - they only thing you would have yet to agree to is that this applies not only to economics, but to pretty much everything in real life. And I would say especially for art.

Kat said...

@Thomas: Well, of course. His sounds a bit like a straw man argument, though -- one of those items from the Department of the Blindingly Obvious. Anyone who's studied quantum mechanics knows that the weird, improbable and nonintuitive does happen -- and on a regular basis! And indeed, some experiments would require another entire universe to pull off in a rigorous fashion. But none of that detracts from the enormous impact science and the scientific method have had upon nearly everything in our lives and even in the way we think. It has become rather fashionable these days to try to spit at science for what it doesn't do or hasn't yet done, but that is a sad and self-defeating exercise.

My utter disdain for economics comes from the complete failure from inception to incorporate nature into the calculations. This has resulted in 70% of wild nature being damaged or destroyed without most folks seeing the connection to consumptive human behavior. Thus, we have lost most of that which sustains us before most folks realized that was the real price they paid beyond the currency amount. Wild nature is far more valuable than the capitalist corporatist mindset can ever fathom. Nature is not an "external" -- it is the heart of the matter.

I find this devastating both as a biologist and as an artist.

This artwork expresses it perfectly:
http://one1more2time3.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/horst-haitzinger/

Thomas said...

@kat
Sorry, I don't know how to reply. I would have to defend him against what you imagine he says, while your arguments against him are pretty much what he says.
I didn't want to force him on you - it was just a suggestion.

I agree that science has had a great positive impact on us. But it was often in history overestimated. Medicine is an example - until recent times it was actually harmful to go to a doctor.

It's the case still in many areas. Art is one - I see science not having much of a hold. And Dutton's attempt is just another overconfident fail.

Kat said...

@Thomas: Have you ever read The Alarming History of Medicine? It's not only a spectacular read, it's hilarious. Indeed, science has worked against horrific odds (and the Church -- many of our heroes were flayed, burned at the stake, banished, made to recant, confined, etc) in order to get where it is now, more than trebling human lifespans.

Cognitive methodologies also had to evolve along with memes and knowledge. For example, it took an shockingly long time to get doctors to wash their hands between handling corpses and attending childbirths -- but as soon as they relented and started doing so, maternal and newborn deaths plummeted. (As a wit once said, "A conservative believes nothing should be done for the first time.")

Lay people tend to be very fickle and unreasonable in their expectations with respect to science. Scientists, however, are trained in caution, although acquisition of knowledge through this extremely powerful means is very stimulating and exciting indeed.

Since science progresses through the work of intelligent, creative people, it naturally cannot turn its attention to everything at once. (And, as Einstein said, "As the diameter of light increases, so also does the circumference of darkness".) The visual arts will be examined. There have already been some interesting studies. For example, the visual memory of art students has declined by about 70% since the 1920s, as seen by regular testing over the years.

Music is being examined quite avidly -- this may be because many scientists also play music.

Any phenomenon can be examined; some more readily amenable than others. New methodologies are being developed all the time. Everything evolves.

Poor Dutton. Apparently he's not even a scientist. Not sure how he got a slot at TED -- probably on the strength of his drawings, certainly not on the strength of his science. It was a bit of an embarrassment that he shouldn't have tarred Darwin with.

(I keep wondering about the wear patterns on the stones that did show wear...)

Sheila said...

Wooo. So I can attract a man by my artwork? Oh goodie... *waits hopefully*...

*Still waiting...*