What evolutionary purpose is appreciation of beauty?

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In summary, the author asserts that human aesthetics, including art, likely come from sexual selection. The appreciation of art itself may not have any selection pressure associated with it.
  • #1
dratsab
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I know it could be used to say, find a good place to live, since we find water beautiful. But what about those that admire deserts? What about admiration of non-visual art? What benefits did they bring? I suppose some could be social.
 
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  • #2
Pattern recognition is very important to survival.
 
  • #3
Beauty brings along a sense of comfort, which allows proper metabolism. Anything can become "beautiful", as long as it's associated with positive feelings. A desert will be the prettiest place in the world if you and your camel are outrunning a pack of lions. (personnal view)
 
  • #4
Beauty leads to happiness. Happiness leads to survival.

I know MANY people that music/art/etc. gets them through tough times, myself included. Whenever I have a garbagety day, I come home, listen to some music, and I feel better. I feel re energized and I can continue on with my life.

Happiness is critical for survival.
 
  • #5
I am really not at all sure where from comes this notion that there needs to be an evolutionary explanation for every facet of the human condition. There undoubtedly is an entirely scientifically robust explanation for why we developed our large brains and the exceptional intelligence with which we are blessed. But there does not necessarily exist a scientific evolutionary explanation for every use to which we put that ability.
 
  • #6
Beauty seems fairly important to a peahen!
 
  • #7
Not sure of your point mugaliens. Birds of paradise are certainly a stunning demonstration of the power of evolution by sexual selection. The outlandish males are entirely the result of very choosy females. Are you seriously suggesting that, evolutionarily, this is essentially the same phenomenon as human appreciation of art?
 
  • #8
Ken Natton said:
Not sure of your point mugaliens. Birds of paradise are certainly a stunning demonstration of the power of evolution by sexual selection. The outlandish males are entirely the result of very choosy females. Are you seriously suggesting that, evolutionarily, this is essentially the same phenomenon as human appreciation of art?

We discussed this in another thread and someone posted this article. Its quite good.

http://www.unm.edu/~gfmiller/new_papers2/miller 2001 aesthetic.doc
Note that is a link directly to a word doc download.

And yes it asserts that human aesthetics, including art, likely come from sexual selection.
 
  • #9
But the appreciation of art itself could still be a spandel wouldn't it? It may be rooted in an "evolutionary purpose" historically, but the actual appreciation of art itself may not have any selection pressure associated with it.
 
  • #10
Beauty = health, strength...fitness.
 
  • #11
russ_watters said:
Beauty = health, strength...fitness.

I think the OP meant landscapes.
 
  • #12
lisab said:
I think the OP meant landscapes.
Is there a difference?
 
  • #13
russ_watters said:
Is there a difference?

When I think of health, strength and fitness, I don't think of landscapes :wink:
 
  • #14
lisab said:
When I think of health, strength and fitness, I don't think of landscapes :wink:
I mean is there a difference in the brain functions for each.
 
  • #15
russ_watters said:
I mean is there a difference in the brain functions for each.

Well..when I see a healthy guy vs. look at a pretty landscape, I get a different reaction :uhh:
 
  • #16
Baby animals do it for me.
 
  • #17
lisab said:
Well..when I see a healthy guy vs. look at a pretty landscape, I get a different reaction :uhh:
That suggests two things to me:
1. You can't appreciate the attractiveness of a man without becoming sexually aroused.
2. You see the issue as binary: attractive and unattractive; with nothing in between.

Is that really what you meant to convey?

Anyway, I really didn't intend or want this banter. I figured the point would be easy to understand and seem as self-evident to others as it is to me, but apparently not. So here it is, laid as bare as I can make it: and though I thought it up on my own, it's easy to verify with a quick google that what I'm describing is a mainstream view:
Aesthetic ornamentation in other species almost always results from sexual selection through mate choice, and sexually-selected ornaments usually function as indicators of fitness – good health, good brains, and good genes. This paper suggests that human art capacities evolved in the same way, with aesthetic judgement evolving in the service of mate choice.
http://www.unm.edu/~psych/faculty/aesthetic_fitness.htm

Translation: we find art and landscapes attractive because we evolved to find our mates attractive.
 
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  • #18
russ_watters said:
That suggests two things to me:
1. You can't appreciate the attractiveness of a man without becoming sexually aroused.
2. You see the issue as binary: attractive and unattractive; with nothing in between.

Wow, you're really waaaay out there!

Well it's not unusual for men to interpret women as if they were men, but with the gender parity switched. It's not uncommon. It's wrong, but not uncommon.

But you're right, that's OT.
 
  • #19
I am a little surprised by where the weight of opinion appears to be on this thread, but believe me, I do not overestimate the degree to which anyone cares what I think. Let me just ask this question to those who think that an appreciation of beauty is an entirely evolved function of sexual selection. Do you think that every aspect of human behaviour, of human preference, of human habit, all of it is ultimately traceable to some evolutionary explanation or another? It seems to me that we are more than just the sum total of our evolutionary history and our genes. I will be astonished to find myself alone in that opinion.
 
  • #20
I think most biologists agree with you, Ken:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel_(biology )
 
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  • #21
I concur. This kind of "abstract appreciation" is an emergent property of a hugely complex organ that is the conscious human brain.

Note that evolution is absolutely rife with examples of traits that emerged from some other evolutionary trait, but then became useful on their own (such as feathers, which were not initially useful for flight).

- nay, even rife is too weak a word; I would say one of the very founding principles of evolution is that traits that evolve to suit one purpose actually end up providing a benefit in a completely different way.
 
  • #22
dratsab said:
I know it could be used to say, find a good place to live, since we find water beautiful. But what about those that admire deserts? What about admiration of non-visual art? What benefits did they bring? I suppose some could be social.

non-visual? you mean like music? i imagine there must be some utility for hunting. imitating calls, and recognizing them, goes a long way towards luring and finding game. tone deafness would be a hindrance. hmm, maybe the mechanics at least of speech evolved from men instead of women, after all.
 
  • #23
Ken Natton said:
Let me just ask this question to those who think that an appreciation of beauty is an entirely evolved function of sexual selection. Do you think that every aspect of human behaviour, of human preference, of human habit, all of it is ultimately traceable to some evolutionary explanation or another? It seems to me that we are more than just the sum total of our evolutionary history and our genes. I will be astonished to find myself alone in that opinion.
Don't read more into what I said than what I actually said.
 
  • #24
russ_watters said:
Don't read more into what I said than what I actually said.

Okay, I shall not, and I did not. I asked a genuine question. Conspicuously, you didn't answer it.
 
  • #25
The answer is no and you should not have read into my post that I would have answered yes. You read more into what I said than what I said.
 
  • #26
Russ, however much you may assert the contrary, the truth is that I did not read anything at all into your post. It seemed to me to be that the weight of opinion among all who were contributing to this thread was that human appreciation of beauty in whatever form is explainable, in evolutionary terms, as a function of sexual selection. Not only is that a notion that I remain uncertain is the case – and I mean to phrase it like that, I am open to be persuaded by thoughtful contribution – it was genuinely surprising to me that such was the weight of opinion. I asked a genuine question intended to establish some context for that view – whether it was part of a broader belief that all human behaviour is similarly explainable in some evolutionary terms, or whether there was broad acceptance of human capability to rise above genetic programming, but still a feeling that appreciation of beauty in particular is largely so explainable. I was interested in everyone’s response to that question, not just yours. It seemed to me to be the basis of a conversation that would have been worth participating in. That’s all.
 
  • #27
lisab said:
Well..when I see a healthy guy vs. look at a pretty landscape, I get a different reaction :uhh:
When I see an attractive woman vs a pretty landscape, I get a different reaction. :biggrin: The reaction depends on the woman and the landscape. And arousal is generally not a reaction (a benefit of age :biggrin:). And I don't see in a binary mode. Quite simply there is a difference between animate and inanimate entities. It's possible I could interact with the woman, e.g., engage in conversation. I can't do that with a landscape, or any inanimate object in the landscape. On the other hand, I can go hiking in the wilderness and enjoy the scenery.

Also, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
 
  • #28
Funny, but the feeling I get when I see any landscape, is as if it's my friend, like it's on my side...
 
  • #29
russ_watters said:
Is there a difference?

Pardon me, but I have seen a few people and animals for that matter up and die is absoulte breath taking beautiful places ... hmmm. Maybe that was the problem.
 
  • #30
Why? Because the Universe is a beautiful place.
 
  • #31
Looking at the 'beauty receptors' that aren't mate-finders, I think our appreciation of beauty has to do with our intrinsic love for curiosity, mastery, and empathy.

I say this because I recently figured out what kind of music I enjoy. I love music that just barely makes any sense to me (like a puzzle), or music that I can feel at a very fundamental level (like a hug, or a smile, or a death, or a struggle).I feel that the more languages you study, the greater the capacity for beauty and understanding you have. (To clarify "languages", I think of music, math, art, sports, English, etc. as different languages of expression for our minds).

For instance, I've spent a lot of my life learning how to talk through music, but haven't spent any time learning how to talk through drawing or painting. Now, I can deeply appreciate a good pianist, because I can feel what they're saying, and visualize how much time and energy they've invested to achieve their level of understanding. But when I talk to my (art major) sister about a picture or a landscape, I just don't feel like I appreciate it as much as she does, because she's feeling things that I can't even comprehend. Then when we talk about music or math, I don't feel like she hears everything that's being said.So if you have ever chased or achieved mastery of anything, you can appreciate another master's hard work. And if you can speak that language fluently, you can understand the other master's message on a level that not many will ever hear. Thankfully though, anyone can feel that innate human desire of wanting to be understood, through any articulation of the mind, just by tapping into their empathy.
 
  • #32
This is my first post here (just so people know if I seem a bit.. odd. :P Also hi).

I would just like to say that while I don't believe there is an evolutionary reason behind everything, I could explain why people see things such as deserts beautiful.

I have lived in/around/close to deserts all my life. I love them. Personally, I don't see why people find them "ugly" or "boring." There are all sorts of fun things about them that you just have to find. Anyway, on to the actual logic/reasoning side of this.

My best guess (which is just that, purely a guess), is that yes, even deserts can be used for survival. Not many plants/animals can live in a desert, and most that can are not very hard to spot, or are not very dangerous (with exceptions, of course). If you are being chased by something (like someone else said in this thread), a desolate wasteland could be a safe-haven, and, if the person can live in the desert, it could be a permanent safe haven from "baddies."

The downside is, of course, that it is a rough life unless you know what to look for, however, I'd prefer a desert to say... a rainforest where poisonous things exist all over and even simply touching one could kill you (though the people who know rainforests would, I'm sure, prefer those to a desert).

Like others said in this thread, it could simply be a connection between ability to live and happiness = beauty, happiness being the ability to not just live, but live relatively comfortably.
 
  • #33
Forms closer to the golden section are said to be more beautiful.

http://library.thinkquest.org/trio/TTQ05063/phibeauty2.htm

Perhaps our registering a posative experience when seeing this ratio points to the recognision of some deeper laying property. One which it is beneficial for us to be attracted to?
A bit vague but there you go.
 
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  • #34
Pythagorean said:
But the appreciation of art itself could still be a spandel wouldn't it? It may be rooted in an "evolutionary purpose" historically, but the actual appreciation of art itself may not have any selection pressure associated with it.

Last I checked, works of art can't procreate. Nevertheless, I believe appreciation of art derives from our our own visually-motivated procreation.
 
  • #35
Evolutionary pressures don't have to procreate (climate, for instance) but they can (predators and prey).

Art appreciation may or may not derive from sexual selection but art appreciation can still be a spandrel either way.
 

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