Examined Lives: Evolutionary Aesthetics (Session 36)
What is the role of evolutionary theory in explaining aesthetics in nature and in human culture?
How might we explain our own aesthetic experiences?
Perspectives to knit together:
Richard Prum argues that aesthetic preferences in animals, including humans, are not solely driven by adaptation and sexual selection, but also by individual preferences and sensory experiences. He gives evidence for evolutionary outcomes that are shaped by nonadaptive (even maladaptive) traits and subjective or arbitrary senses.
Interview with Prum on The Evolution of Beauty in 2017
2016 lecture at Yale University
Darwinian aesthetics: sexual selection and the biology of beauty (Grammer et al., 2003) (pdf)
"Although beauty standards may vary between cultures and between times, we show in this review that the underlying selection pressures, which shaped the standards, are the same. Moreover we show that it is not the content of the standards that show evidence of convergence ‐ **it is the rules or how we construct beauty ideals that have universalities across cultures**."
Examples of those standard construction rules are features, averageness, and symmetry.
The Art Experience (McCallum et al., 2019) (pdf)
A theory of the cognitive processes that underpin the "rich, surprising and complex thoughts" when viewing a piece of art and interpretations that "go well beyond how they would interpret the same object encountered in a different cultural context." What is the function of this open-mindedness?
For the ambitious:
Explore the results on two AI-driven research platforms for the question, "What evolutionary processes have shaped our preferences for beauty, art, and music?"
The generated synthesis reads: "These studies suggest that preferences for beauty, art, and music are shaped by biologically-based standards of attractiveness, brain processing involving both objective and subjective beauty, and certain personality traits such as intellect, sensation seeking, and agreeableness."
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