What evolutionary purpose is appreciation of beauty?

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  • #36
TheStatutoryApe
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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.

When you find a persons physical appearance to be sexually attractive is it because you perceive that the particular physical qualities are highly correlated with successful mating and propagation of ones genes?

That a trait crops up and is successful has no correlation with "purpose" in a conscious sense. It is either successful or not and what ever intellectualization one attaches to that trait is irrelevant as far as evolution is concerned.

I would also assert that a connection between "art appreciation" and sexual selection is quite alive and well in modern times.
 
  • #37
Pythagorean
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I'm not sure what your point is if not to be pedantic. When people talk about evolutionary purpose or nature abhorring something it doesn't really imply anthropocentric qualities. It's a communication device.
 
  • #38
TheStatutoryApe
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I'm not sure what your point is if not to be pedantic. When people talk about evolutionary purpose or nature abhorring something it doesn't really imply anthropocentric qualities. It's a communication device.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, or not communicating well. I am pointing out that the difference between the instinctual sexual selection characteristic and "the actual appreciation of art" appears to only be an intellectualizing of the trait. It may just be the word choice of "appreciation of art" which conjures "art appreciation" or a sort of intellectual and academic affair divorced from the visceral experience of "art". But if you do not mean it that way I am rather uncertain of what you are talking about.
 
  • #39
Galteeth
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I recently read "Anarchy Evolution" by Greg Graffin, and he made an interesting point about how he feels natural selection is often mis-interpreted from a top-down point of view. Specifically, natural selection is often invoked as being similar to the role of a creator. While undoubtedly natural selection is the most important process in evolution, it is fallacious to assume that just because some trait exists in a species it is invariably the direct result of natural selection (of course it is still the indirect result.) An earlier poster expressed the possibility that appreciation of beauty might be a spandrel. Given how little we really understand of the way our brain produces its unique sensations, and how fluid and dynamic our perceptive abilities are, it seems entirely possible that beauty, in that ephemeral, appreciation of art sense, is a dynamic by-product of different underlying selected for traits of consciousness. Although i can't produce a link because I don't recall the exact study, there was some evidence that apes were able to experience something similar to "aesthetic wonder", so this capacity may predate humans.
 
  • #40
Pythagorean
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Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, or not communicating well. I am pointing out that the difference between the instinctual sexual selection characteristic and "the actual appreciation of art" appears to only be an intellectualizing of the trait. It may just be the word choice of "appreciation of art" which conjures "art appreciation" or a sort of intellectual and academic affair divorced from the visceral experience of "art". But if you do not mean it that way I am rather uncertain of what you are talking about.

It's much simpler than that, you almost stated it yourself:

That a trait crops up and is successful has no correlation with "purpose" in a conscious sense. It is either successful or not and what ever intellectualization one attaches to that trait is irrelevant as far as evolution is concerned.

except for that sexual selection is a real evolutionary pressure (pretty unavoidable, that) that uses more mechanisms than the visual system (pheromones, for instance) but you'd be hard pressed to find a case where art appreciation (or lack of it) puts evolutionary pressure on an organism. Some people can go through their lives successfully mating an never really appreciate art; blind people can successfully reproduce, etc, etc.

So the ability to appreciate art itself is a spandrel: in fact, an organism that confuses wall art for a mate might have more trouble reproducing. Many organisms have gotten by just fine without appreciating art yet still having a rabid sex life. For us though, it's one of the thousands of evolutionarily meaningless things that humans do (just like music, science, internet arguments, and checkers).
 
  • #41
Proton Soup
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It's much simpler than that, you almost stated it yourself:



except for that sexual selection is a real evolutionary pressure (pretty unavoidable, that) that uses more mechanisms than the visual system (pheromones, for instance) but you'd be hard pressed to find a case where art appreciation (or lack of it) puts evolutionary pressure on an organism. Some people can go through their lives successfully mating an never really appreciate art; blind people can successfully reproduce, etc, etc.

So the ability to appreciate art itself is a spandrel: in fact, an organism that confuses wall art for a mate might have more trouble reproducing. Many organisms have gotten by just fine without appreciating art yet still having a rabid sex life. For us though, it's one of the thousands of evolutionarily meaningless things that humans do (just like music, science, internet arguments, and checkers).

i don't accept that having sex is evidence of an absence of selection. people at the top, visually, may know they are the best selection, and choose to hold out for a mate they think is worthy of themselves. this continues on down the line to the dregs, but because sexual instinct is so strong, they pair up as well. perhaps the dregs even pair up more often and have more sex because of an impaired sense of beauty.
 
  • #42
Ryan_m_b
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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.

One of the damn best quotes I've ever read on this forum!

I frequently have conversations with non-scientist friends/people who ask me why X and Y evolved and I frequently find myself trying to explain that not every trait can be boiled down to a quick and easy answer rooted in natural selection.

For my two cents on beauty; pattern recognition and the ability to become attracted to something increase survival and proliferation of a species. Whilst we don't look at landscapes and become aroused biology really isn't that determinate (especially when it comes to behavioural psychology)! As for why some people like deserts, perhaps its a case of loving what you know? If you have good experiences growing up in an area it's logical you would become attracted to that.
 
  • #43
DaveC426913
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One of the damn best quotes I've ever read on this forum!

You heard it here folks. :biggrin:

I'm going to sig that.
 
  • #44
Pythagorean
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Art takes all kinds of forms and interests different people for different reasons. Even in one person, different art can have different significance (it can be as simple as having a connection with the symbolism or other such abstract representations).

Aside from the sexual evolution, I heard some interesting research today about fractals and fractals in nature, and how fractal visuals can reduce stress levels. The speaker's hypothesis was that some forms of art appreciation may be associated with the "evolutionary purpose" of being able to pick out a predators.

That is, fractals appear all around is in nature (outside the concrete jungle) and we must have adapted to detect predators in that environment, so there's something unsettling about living in a solid-colored square box most of the time.

One of the interesting indications of this that the research found is that if you find a D-value (fractal dimension) near that of the eye's D-value (your eyes search in a fractal pattern too) it greatly reduces stress levels (which makes sense, intuitively: you get more information with less effort because the information distribution is on the scale of your searching algorithm's eye-placement distribution).
 
  • #45
physics girl phd
937
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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.

Totally off topic, but this sentence makes me think of the character of unknown gender we saw adjusting 'herself' in 'her' shirt when we were at the airport last week. 'She' also seemed so ill-adjusted in 'her' shoes that I theorized 'she' just got off the plane from an out-of-town sex-change operation.
 
  • #46
TheStatutoryApe
260
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except for that sexual selection is a real evolutionary pressure (pretty unavoidable, that) that uses more mechanisms than the visual system (pheromones, for instance)
"Art" uses many mediums beside the visual. It usually encompasses music which you have noted as a separate entity. The primary theme in Tom Robbin's Jitterbug Perfume is the "art" of creating perfumes or scents and, if I remember correctly, even discusses the impact of this "art" on human mating habits. Of course that is fiction but the particular "art" does exist and you can find plenty of pages on it with a quick google search. We are primarily visual creatures so we probably focus more on visual arts.

but you'd be hard pressed to find a case where art appreciation (or lack of it) puts evolutionary pressure on an organism. Some people can go through their lives successfully mating an never really appreciate art; blind people can successfully reproduce, etc, etc.
First I think that the use of the term "art" is part of our misunderstanding since it is used in many ways and its definition is somewhat nebulous. A more precise term for what we are discussing would probably be "aesthetics" or "aesthetic sense". Particularly with sexual selection and created "art" in mind we might perhaps refer to "aesthetic device" for aiding courtship and its impact by proxy on the appreciation of aesthetic device in general.
Secondly I am not saying that "art appreciation" or "aesthetic sense" are the only sexual selection characteristic. That people could definitely mate and reproduce without ever knowing anything of aesthetics does not mean anything. "Good hair" is a common sexual selection characteristic and yet persons who do not have "good hair" still often reproduce. Same with "good teeth" and "good skin". I would say that a person with no aesthetic sense is likely to have about as much difficulty finding mate as any person with bad teeth, hair, or skin.

Funnily as I was typing this up a received a text message from a friend who is homeless, jobless, overweight, and has bad teeth but is a pretty good singer and is in a band. He was telling me that he got asked home by a woman he just met after his show he did tonight.
So the ability to appreciate art itself is a spandrel: in fact, an organism that confuses wall art for a mate might have more trouble reproducing. Many organisms have gotten by just fine without appreciating art yet still having a rabid sex life. For us though, it's one of the thousands of evolutionarily meaningless things that humans do (just like music, science, internet arguments, and checkers).
In the paper I linked earlier they mention the bower bird, which I had never heard of before, and I found it a rather striking example. If you are unfamiliar apparently the male bower bird builds an elaborate and "beautiful" nest (referred to as a bower) to attract a mate. The female bower birds seem to have a preference for bowers which are larger and more elaborate and "beautiful" than others. As far as I know they don't actually bugger the bowers. If you don't mind adding singing and dancing to the catalog of "art"/"aesthetic device" then we can see that a rather significant number of animals (including humans) regularly use "art"/"aesthetic device" as a part of their courtship practices.
 
  • #47
Pythagorean
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yes, I knew about he bowerbird (and peacocks and cuttle fish) when I posted. I don't mind including music in art (it's the only art I can do, after all) but it seemed to me like this thread was about visual art.

I don't think the bowerbird or the peacock or the cuttle fish have a very similar thing happening as when we see a piece of an art in a museum (or even sitting at home, on the internet, or listening in our car to music).

Quite simply, unless we have good reason or evidence, trying to come up with evolutionary reasons for human traits leads to (as you are demonstrating) very human-centric predictions. That your fat, ugly friend can score because he's a musician has no basis in evolutionary science: it's an anecdote, a novelty. It's not surprising, but it's also clearly not the norm.

You need really good evidence to talk about evolutionary purpose (which really has nothing to do with 'purpose' and is actually a postdictive statement about what traits were successful, as you said yourself). You can't claim a trait is successful just because it developed and is still around, the chin isn't "successful" as far as we know. It just is.

Now when you start talking about the mind in the context of evolution, you're talking about the wobbly portion of evolutionary psychology, which has a lot of reasonable criticisms launched at it from people like Gary Marcus (see Kluge).

If you think about an experiment you can do to prove the claim in the first place (or know of an experiment already done) I'd like to hear about it. It's easy to figure out what genes code for a particular functional protein but even pondering the genetics of mental events is already extremely difficult and requires at least some experience with the indirect approach of bioinformatics to even playfully bat at.
 
  • #48
Ryan_m_b
Staff Emeritus
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You heard it here folks. :biggrin:

I'm going to sig that.

I'm honoured :smile: !

Birds of paradise engage in a highly complex mating rituals and look stunning because there has been no strong natural selection on them for some time. This has left sexual selection to be the main driver making them more and more elaborate at attracting mates.

A by-product of our brain is our ability to adopt very novel behaviours. It is pretty hard and simplistic to try to boil one human trait (if you can even demonstrate that it is one trait) to an evolutionary answer. This is especially true since we are working on guesswork, we have the capability to like and dislike the appearance of things. Depending on culture the reaction and the thing can change incredibly.
 
  • #49
TheStatutoryApe
260
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yes, I knew about he bowerbird (and peacocks and cuttle fish) when I posted. I don't mind including music in art (it's the only art I can do, after all) but it seemed to me like this thread was about visual art.

I don't think the bowerbird or the peacock or the cuttle fish have a very similar thing happening as when we see a piece of an art in a museum (or even sitting at home, on the internet, or listening in our car to music).
I think that limiting this to visual art is a mistake. I do not see any reason to believe that the responses involved in the appreciation of a fine piece of music is much different than the responses involved in appreciating a fine painting. If you know of any reason to believe otherwise then please let me know.

As for the bower bird I am unsure why you are mentioning peacocks and cuddlefish. I bring up bower birds, and they are brought up in the paper, because they actually create the object which attracts their mate. It is a thing outside and separate from themselves. That is why it is similar to paintings and the like. Their mate is attracted to an object. It apparently finds the object aesthetically pleasing. The theory is that the amount of time, effort, and cleverness required to build an aesthetically pleasing bower, above and beyond that required to merely survive, is a good indicator of fitness. So if a female bower bird finds herself a really nice bower she has likely also found herself a fit mate.

If your issue is a lack of sexual context when you are in a museum or your living room looking at a painting I would say that the sexual context is irrelevant. I noted earlier that nice hair, teeth, and skin are common sexual selection characteristics. We are attracted to these things though the average person does not sexualize teeth and hair and skin. The average person (and animal) is attracted to these things in any context. They are also gender neutral. We are attracted to these things regardless of the gender of the person who possesses them. So it seems that sexual context is irrelevant to a sexual selection characteristic.

Quite simply, unless we have good reason or evidence, trying to come up with evolutionary reasons for human traits leads to (as you are demonstrating) very human-centric predictions. That your fat, ugly friend can score because he's a musician has no basis in evolutionary science: it's an anecdote, a novelty. It's not surprising, but it's also clearly not the norm.
I am unsure how my "predictions" are "human-centric". And my note about my friend was an aside. I found it funny in the context of the discussion. I also am not sure that it is "clearly not the norm". Though there has not been a scientific study that I am aware of the bulk of anecdotal evidence supports the idea that persons are highly attracted to singers and musicians.

You need really good evidence to talk about evolutionary purpose (which really has nothing to do with 'purpose' and is actually a postdictive statement about what traits were successful, as you said yourself). You can't claim a trait is successful just because it developed and is still around, the chin isn't "successful" as far as we know. It just is.

Now when you start talking about the mind in the context of evolution, you're talking about the wobbly portion of evolutionary psychology, which has a lot of reasonable criticisms launched at it from people like Gary Marcus (see Kluge).
The evidence is primarily in the correlation of data. Of course correlation is not causation but that is pretty much all we have. In the case of sexual selection characteristics high correlation of a trait with reproductive success and fitness is what it is all about.

If you think about an experiment you can do to prove the claim in the first place (or know of an experiment already done) I'd like to hear about it. It's easy to figure out what genes code for a particular functional protein but even pondering the genetics of mental events is already extremely difficult and requires at least some experience with the indirect approach of bioinformatics to even playfully bat at.

Did you read the paper I linked?
The fitness indicator view of aesthetic judgement and artistic production is, like most real mid-level hypotheses in evolutionary psychology, eminently testable (see Ketelaar & Ellis, 1999). Indeed, one major advantage is that it can be tested using many of the same empirical methods that have already been used in animal comunication research (see e.g. Andersson, 1994; Bradbury & Vehrencamp, 1998; Catchpole & Slater, 1995; Johnstone, 1995). The hypothesis that a behavioral trait has evolved through sexual selection as a fitness indicator leads to the 34 predictions below. They are generic to fitness indicators, but in the context of this paper on the visual arts, the ‘trait’ would be art production ability (presumably controlling for instruction and practice), and the ‘mate choice criterion’ would be aesthetic value-judgments about artistic merit. Not all 34 predictions need be supported for the hypothesis to hold true, but the more the better. For a fuller explanation of how these predications relate to the theory, see Miller (2000a,b,c,d).
Following that is the mentioned list of predictions.
 
  • #50
chaoseverlasting
1,041
3
Do you need a reason? Of what evolutionary use is pure mathematics? Or music? Any field that is purely intellectual without any practical application is from the point of view of evolution, unnecessary. Perhaps its just a side effect. A by product of our ability to think.

As far as beauty in human beings is concerned, symmetry at least is a sign of good health and we generally tend to find symmetrical faces more beautiful.
 
  • #51
JaredJames
2,817
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beauty will use different in different place like, in dessert water is the main beauty, in summer time rain will give the amazing beauty. etc

Huh?
 
  • #52
fuzzyfelt
Gold Member
768
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yes, I knew about he bowerbird (and peacocks and cuttle fish) when I posted. I don't mind including music in art (it's the only art I can do, after all) but it seemed to me like this thread was about visual art.

I don't think the bowerbird or the peacock or the cuttle fish have a very similar thing happening as when we see a piece of an art in a museum (or even sitting at home, on the internet, or listening in our car to music).

Quite simply, unless we have good reason or evidence, trying to come up with evolutionary reasons for human traits leads to (as you are demonstrating) very human-centric predictions. That your fat, ugly friend can score because he's a musician has no basis in evolutionary science: it's an anecdote, a novelty. It's not surprising, but it's also clearly not the norm.

You need really good evidence to talk about evolutionary purpose (which really has nothing to do with 'purpose' and is actually a postdictive statement about what traits were successful, as you said yourself). You can't claim a trait is successful just because it developed and is still around, the chin isn't "successful" as far as we know. It just is.

Now when you start talking about the mind in the context of evolution, you're talking about the wobbly portion of evolutionary psychology, which has a lot of reasonable criticisms launched at it from people like Gary Marcus (see Kluge).

If you think about an experiment you can do to prove the claim in the first place (or know of an experiment already done) I'd like to hear about it. It's easy to figure out what genes code for a particular functional protein but even pondering the genetics of mental events is already extremely difficult and requires at least some experience with the indirect approach of bioinformatics to even playfully bat at.

What about this sort of thing? It could be drawing a longbow :).

The meaning of “beauty” adds to the difficulties here. These instead are about creativity rather than beauty, however successful divergent thinking here might be judged on some notion of beauty. I referred to this and others like it before, here, which suggest that despite possible negatives related to an inclination towards the arts, genes remain in the gene pool, possibly due to benefits derived from divergent thinking.

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/273/1586/611.short

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WM0-4HDX6J2-2&_user=10&_coverDate=12%2F31%2F2006&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1742875997&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=1eb285022704bdf1560011b070ab476e&searchtype=a
 
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  • #53
Pythagorean
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As for the bower bird I am unsure why you are mentioning peacocks and cuddlefish. I bring up bower birds, and they are brought up in the paper, because they actually create the object which attracts their mate.

the article you cited also mentions peacocks. Remember the comparison people were making in this thread was to sexual selection. Peacocks are an example of visual sexual selection.

also, we're talking about appreciation of beauty, not just the making of beauty (see thread title).

If your issue is a lack of sexual context when you are in a museum or your living room looking at a painting I would say that the sexual context is irrelevant. I noted earlier that nice hair, teeth, and skin are common sexual selection characteristics. We are attracted to these things though the average person does not sexualize teeth and hair and skin. The average person (and animal) is attracted to these things in any context. They are also gender neutral. We are attracted to these things regardless of the gender of the person who possesses them. So it seems that sexual context is irrelevant to a sexual selection characteristic.

But you're narrowing your focus to facial characteristics (which aren't sexual selection-specific. It's a multi-faceted aspect. The goal isn't always reproduction. We have innate circuitry for facial recognition that allows us to empathize with each other).

I am unsure how my "predictions" are "human-centric". And my note about my friend was an aside. I found it funny in the context of the discussion. I also am not sure that it is "clearly not the norm". Though there has not been a scientific study that I am aware of the bulk of anecdotal evidence supports the idea that persons are highly attracted to singers and musicians.

It just appears mildly deceptive when you include an anecdote that is irrelevant but appear relevant. It's human-centric to try an attach purpose to every aspect of humanity (there may very well be no purpose for our ability to appreciate art).

The evidence is primarily in the correlation of data. Of course correlation is not causation but that is pretty much all we have. In the case of sexual selection characteristics high correlation of a trait with reproductive success and fitness is what it is all about.

No that's not all we have. The molecular story is how we confirm these kinds of claims, tracing mRNA especially. But the larger and larger the molecular networks get, the more convoluted the answer is. The biological networks that mediate social behavior are vastly complex.


Did you read the paper I linked?

I skimmed (that's after all, why I brought up peacocks) Did you read it? Did you miss the peacock section?

Anyway, you are fully capable of representing the logical argument in the paper and the evidence. I shouldn't have to read it myself.

But so far, this:

Not all 34 predictions need be supported for the hypothesis to hold true, but the more the better

Reminds me of fishing. Bigger net catch more fish. Science ought to be a bit more succinct.
 

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