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The atheist may lie down with the believer, the encyclopedia with the poem. He obtained his PhD at the University of British Columbia, and now runs a design and animation studio called Misfit Productions and an independent press called Misfit Press. Nice piece, nice at least to see academia reacting to wider intellectual trends, for good or for ill.

And bobby — is that really the thing you felt compelled to comment on? Amongst thousands of words, a slight and passing error in historical terminology which has no real bearing on the actual thrust of the article?

The Literary Animal : Evolution and the Nature of Narrative | eBay

Internet pedantry at its finest! Very interesting article! In fact, the telescope appears throughout Paradise Lost, and Milton was quite obsessed with Galileo and his invention! Darwinism is true whether you believe in it or not, but the theories on darwinism by Pinker and Dawkins are not necessarily so. Their theories in fact are at times not any less speculative than the Theory they decried.

There is no proof for it and in fact it does not qualify as a scientific theory. In the end the problem with literary darwinism is that it understands, often, very little of darwinism or of literature. From one side it is still a matter of debate in the biological sciences how much the gene leads the way and how much its expression is instead determined by the environment. That is that our novels and poems are not only the product of a historical man which a certain darwinism can try to deny with its genetic determinism but also the result of works responding and quoting other works.

And great books are individuals, not genres, what makes them valuable is not how they respect regularity but the way they break it. Really enjoyed this essay M. Great thought provoking stuff. I need a second, probably third pass Wanted: more deep thinking essays on the written word, the highest form of artistic human expression.

Perhaps we should send Bill Nye to go have a chat with Deresiewicz and the staff at the Guardian! Far more interesting to me than why humans tell stories is the question of why some stories are more successful than others. Quite simply, I fail to see how literary Darwinism does anything to help authors or the creative process, let alone understand literature. Why would I ever care what EO Wilson, a man with no literary credentials, cares about literature? He wants to reduce art as literature and music, etc. Literary Darwinism expels from literature what Nietzsche described as the Dionysian, the emotional and self-expressive force.

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I love evolutionary theory and I love literature well enough to know they go together like dairy and citrus. Not Biology seminars. When do biology seminars ever talk about Shakespeare and Dante? As an admirer of Deleuze, my work constantly engages with evolution, materialism, and empiricism, between the lines if not directly. I see most of the advocates of literary Darwinism as latent-Platonists who have no right to call themselves empiricists.

Do you really think that we, as trained literary critics, read metaphor and allegory literally? They try using literature to illustrate their unfalsifiable hypotheses about the origin of humanity for want of actual, material, evidence. It will go on, outside of universities if it must, and literary Darwinists will have nothing to do with it, so ignorant of literary composition and removed from literary circles as they are. Neo-Darwinism needs post-structuralism if it wants to be naturalistic.

Anything else would be contaminated by ideology. Some good Comments too, but — most of the commenters here seem to have an array of false assumptions about what evocriticism and even: evolution is…. Or perhaps even first just choose those topics that you may be unclear on… eg The rational vs the Romantic view of Creativity, etc.

And — see also, Posts there see the Index , on Memetics. Memetics has come a long way since Hopefully, that should likely clear away many misunderstandings about literary Darwinism… and indeed: Evolution. With creative artifacts, such as novels, movies, etc — You need to look at all those 7 systems, and, how they interact over time ie historically. Literary Darwinism is. They are all very outdated now years on. So, you really should not have to feel threatened by any of it.

Read those books on Consilience at post 71… Should allay your fears. They suggest that all aspects of human conscious and unconscious life are determined by language, early childhood trauma, class striving, the conspiracies of patriarchs or plutocrats, or competing discourses of power. Human cognition operates by devising large narratives and reducing phenomena to the terms of those narratives see Gazzaniga And would we really wish it otherwise?

Are the subjects we study — to borrow the idiom of creationist pseudoscience — really irreducibly complex?

What’s wrong with evolutionary biology?

Does it deserve its status as a term of opprobrium? When I visited her last spring, she drove us to one of her field laboratories: a grassy clearing populated with several large concrete basins. The surface of one basin was so packed with woolly algae and pink-flowered water lilies that we could hardly see the water. Cummings began pushing some of the vegetation out of the way, forming shady recesses that permitted our gaze at the right angle. A paper-clip-size fish swam toward us. I leaned in for a closer look. He darted back and forth in front of the female, shimmying as he went, his scales reflecting whatever light managed to breach the murk.

As we toured the facilities, Cummings told me about the arc of her career. While an undergraduate at Stanford University, she spent a summer scuba diving in the giant kelp forests at Hopkins Marine Station, adjacent to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. Cummings thought about the fish she had observed in California and Australia. She was astounded by the dynamic beauty of surfperch in the kelp forest: the way they communicate through the color and brightness of their skin, flashing blue, silver and orange to attract mates.

Equally impressive was the diversity of their aquatic habitats. Some patches of water were sparkling and clear; others were cloudy with algal muck. In Australia, sunlight bathed the many vibrant species of reef fish almost constantly, but they lived against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of coral. How did fish evolve effective and reliable sexual ornaments if the lighting and scenery in their homes were so variable?

After earning a postgraduate degree in Australia in , Cummings began a Ph. For several years, she studied various species of surfperch, repeatedly diving in the kelp forests with a Plexiglas-protected spectrometer to quantify and characterize the light in different habitats. At night, she would use powerful diving lights to stun surfperch and take them back to the lab, evading the hungry seals that routinely trailed her in hopes of making a meal of the startled fish.

After hundreds of dives and careful measurements, Cummings discovered that water itself had guided the evolution of piscine beauty. Whichever males happened to have scales that best reflected these wavelengths were more likely to catch the eye of females. In her studies, Cummings showed that surfperch living in dim or murky waters generally preferred shiny ornaments, while surfperch inhabiting zones of mercurial brightness favored bold colors. Later, Cummings found that Mexican swordtails occupying the upper layers of rivers, where the clear water strongly polarized incoming sunlight, had ornaments that were specialized to reflect polarized light — like a stripe of iridescent blue.

These findings parallel similar studies suggesting that female guppies in Trinidad prefer males with orange patches because they first evolved a taste for nutritious orange tree fruits that occasionally fell into the water. What a creature finds attractive depends on more than the unique qualities of its environment, however; attraction is also defined by which of those qualities cross the threshold of awareness.

Consider the difference between what we see when we look at a flower and what a bumblebee sees. Like us, insects have color vision. Unlike us, insects can also perceive ultraviolet light. Most creatures are oblivious to these ornaments, but to the eyes of many pollinators, they are unmistakable beacons. There is an entire dimension of floral beauty invisible to us, not because we are not exposed to ultraviolet light, but because we do not have the proper biological hardware to perceive it. Their mating call has two elements: The main part, dubbed the whine, sounds precisely like a miniaturized laser gun; sometimes this is followed by one or more brief barks, known as chucks.

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A long and complex mating call is risky: It attracts frog-eating bats. Yet there is a high payoff. Ryan has shown that whines followed by chucks are up to five times as appealing to females as whines alone. But why? As it happens, larger males, which produce the deepest and sexiest chucks, are also the most adept at mating, because they are closer in size to females.

Frog sex is a slippery affair, and a diminutive male is more likely to miss his target. Ryan thinks that eons ago, the ancestor of all these species probably evolved an inner ear tuned to roughly 2, hertz for some long-abandoned purpose. Male frogs that happened to burp out a few extra notes after whining were automatically favored by females — not because they were more suitable mates, but simply because they were more noticeable. But now sensory bias is considered an important part of the evolution of these preferences.

During our walk at Hammonasset, while admiring seabirds from shore-side cliffs, I asked Prum about sensory bias. He said it could not possibly explain the staggering diversity and idiosyncrasy of sexual ornaments — the fact that every closely related sparrow species has a unique embellishment, for example. In , Prum and his colleagues revealed that a crow-size dinosaur called Anchiornis huxleyi was beautifully adorned: gray body plumage, an auburn mohawk and long white limb feathers with black spangles. Why dinosaurs originally evolved feathers has long perplexed scientists. But what explains the development of broad, flat feathers like those found on Anchiornis?

In his book, Prum advocates for an alternative hypothesis that has been gaining support: Large feathers evolved to be beautiful. The aesthetic possibilities of fuzzy down are limited. Only later did birds co-opt their big, glamorous plumes for flight, which is probably a key reason that some of them survived mass extinction 66 million years ago. Birds transformed what was once mere frippery into some of the most enviable adaptations on the planet, from the ocean-spanning breadth of an albatross to the torpedoed silhouette of a plunging falcon.

Yet they never abandoned their sense of style, using feathers as a medium for peerless pageantry. A feather, then, cannot be labeled the sole product of either natural or sexual selection. A feather, with its reciprocal structure, embodies the confluence of two powerful and equally important evolutionary forces: utility and beauty. Beauty reveals that evolution is neither an iterative chiseling of living organisms by a domineering landscape nor a frenzied collision of chance events.

Rather, evolution is an intricate clockwork of physics, biology and perception in which every moving part influences another in both subtle and profound ways. Its gears are so innumerable and dynamic — so susceptible to serendipity and mishap — that even a single outcome of its ceaseless ticking can confound science for centuries. On my last day in Austin, while walking through a park, I encountered a common grackle hunting for insects in the grass. His plumage appeared black as charcoal at first, but as he moved, it shimmered with all the colors of an oil slick.

Every now and then, he stopped in place, inflated his chest and made a sound like a rusty swing set.

Perhaps dissatisfied with the local fare, or uncomfortable with my presence, he flew off. In his absence, my attention immediately shifted to something his presence had obscured — a golden columbine bush. From a distance, its flowers resembled medieval illustrations of comets, big and bold with long, trailing streamers. A tuft of pollen-tipped filaments fizzed through the very center. Viewed from above, the flowers looked like huddles of tiny birds with their beaks pressed together and wings flared. Why are flowers beautiful? Or, more precisely: Why are flowers beautiful to us?

The more I thought about this question, the more it seemed to speak to the nature of beauty itself. Philosophers, scientists and writers have tried to define the essence of beauty for thousands of years. The plurality of their efforts illustrates the immense difficulty of this task. Evolutionary psychologists, eagerly applying adaptive logic to every facet of behavior and cognition, have speculated that the human perception of beauty emerges from a set of ancient adaptations: Perhaps men like women with large breasts and narrow waists because those features signal high fertility; symmetrical faces may correlate with overall health; maybe babies are irresistibly cute because their juvenile features activate the caregiving circuits in our brains.

Such claims sometimes verge on the ludicrous: The philosopher Denis Dutton has argued that people around the world have an intrinsic appreciation for a certain type of landscape — a grassy field with copses of trees, water and wildlife — because it resembles the Pleistocene savannas where humans evolved. In a TED Talk, Dutton explains that postcards, calendars and paintings depicting this universally beloved landscape usually include trees that fork near the ground because our ancestors relied on their conveniently low branches to scramble away from predators.

Unlike us, insects can also perceive ultraviolet light. Most creatures are oblivious to these ornaments, but to the eyes of many pollinators, they are unmistakable beacons. There is an entire dimension of floral beauty invisible to us, not because we are not exposed to ultraviolet light, but because we do not have the proper biological hardware to perceive it. Their mating call has two elements: The main part, dubbed the whine, sounds precisely like a miniaturized laser gun; sometimes this is followed by one or more brief barks, known as chucks.

A long and complex mating call is risky: It attracts frog-eating bats. Yet there is a high payoff. Ryan has shown that whines followed by chucks are up to five times as appealing to females as whines alone.

The Literary Animal

But why? As it happens, larger males, which produce the deepest and sexiest chucks, are also the most adept at mating, because they are closer in size to females. Frog sex is a slippery affair, and a diminutive male is more likely to miss his target. Ryan thinks that eons ago, the ancestor of all these species probably evolved an inner ear tuned to roughly 2, hertz for some long-abandoned purpose.

Male frogs that happened to burp out a few extra notes after whining were automatically favored by females — not because they were more suitable mates, but simply because they were more noticeable. But now sensory bias is considered an important part of the evolution of these preferences. During our walk at Hammonasset, while admiring seabirds from shore-side cliffs, I asked Prum about sensory bias. He said it could not possibly explain the staggering diversity and idiosyncrasy of sexual ornaments — the fact that every closely related sparrow species has a unique embellishment, for example.

In , Prum and his colleagues revealed that a crow-size dinosaur called Anchiornis huxleyi was beautifully adorned: gray body plumage, an auburn mohawk and long white limb feathers with black spangles. Why dinosaurs originally evolved feathers has long perplexed scientists. But what explains the development of broad, flat feathers like those found on Anchiornis? In his book, Prum advocates for an alternative hypothesis that has been gaining support: Large feathers evolved to be beautiful.

The aesthetic possibilities of fuzzy down are limited. Only later did birds co-opt their big, glamorous plumes for flight, which is probably a key reason that some of them survived mass extinction 66 million years ago. Birds transformed what was once mere frippery into some of the most enviable adaptations on the planet, from the ocean-spanning breadth of an albatross to the torpedoed silhouette of a plunging falcon.

Yet they never abandoned their sense of style, using feathers as a medium for peerless pageantry. A feather, then, cannot be labeled the sole product of either natural or sexual selection. A feather, with its reciprocal structure, embodies the confluence of two powerful and equally important evolutionary forces: utility and beauty. Beauty reveals that evolution is neither an iterative chiseling of living organisms by a domineering landscape nor a frenzied collision of chance events.

Rather, evolution is an intricate clockwork of physics, biology and perception in which every moving part influences another in both subtle and profound ways.

On the Origin of Species

Its gears are so innumerable and dynamic — so susceptible to serendipity and mishap — that even a single outcome of its ceaseless ticking can confound science for centuries. On my last day in Austin, while walking through a park, I encountered a common grackle hunting for insects in the grass. His plumage appeared black as charcoal at first, but as he moved, it shimmered with all the colors of an oil slick.

Every now and then, he stopped in place, inflated his chest and made a sound like a rusty swing set. Perhaps dissatisfied with the local fare, or uncomfortable with my presence, he flew off. In his absence, my attention immediately shifted to something his presence had obscured — a golden columbine bush. From a distance, its flowers resembled medieval illustrations of comets, big and bold with long, trailing streamers. A tuft of pollen-tipped filaments fizzed through the very center. Viewed from above, the flowers looked like huddles of tiny birds with their beaks pressed together and wings flared.

Why are flowers beautiful? Or, more precisely: Why are flowers beautiful to us? The more I thought about this question, the more it seemed to speak to the nature of beauty itself. Philosophers, scientists and writers have tried to define the essence of beauty for thousands of years. The plurality of their efforts illustrates the immense difficulty of this task. Evolutionary psychologists, eagerly applying adaptive logic to every facet of behavior and cognition, have speculated that the human perception of beauty emerges from a set of ancient adaptations: Perhaps men like women with large breasts and narrow waists because those features signal high fertility; symmetrical faces may correlate with overall health; maybe babies are irresistibly cute because their juvenile features activate the caregiving circuits in our brains.

Such claims sometimes verge on the ludicrous: The philosopher Denis Dutton has argued that people around the world have an intrinsic appreciation for a certain type of landscape — a grassy field with copses of trees, water and wildlife — because it resembles the Pleistocene savannas where humans evolved.

In a TED Talk, Dutton explains that postcards, calendars and paintings depicting this universally beloved landscape usually include trees that fork near the ground because our ancestors relied on their conveniently low branches to scramble away from predators. Of course, it is undeniable that we, like all animals, are products of evolution.

Controversy of Intelligence: Crash Course Psychology #23

Our inherited anatomy, physiology and instincts have undoubtedly shaped our perception of beauty. In their recent books, Richard Prum and Michael Ryan synthesize research on animals and people, exploring possible evolutionary explanations for our own aesthetic tastes. Ryan is particularly interested in the innate sensitivities and biases of our neural architecture: He describes how our visual system, for example, may be wired to notice symmetry.

Prum stresses his conviction that in humans, as in birds, many types of physical beauty and sexual desire have arbitrarily co-evolved without reference to health or fertility. What complicates their respective arguments is the overwhelming power of human culture. As a species, we are so thoroughly saturated with symbolism, ritual and art — so swayed by rapidly changing fashions — that it is more or less impossible to determine just how much an aesthetic preference owes to evolutionary history as opposed to cultural influence.

Perhaps more than any other object of aesthetic obsession, flowers expose the futility of trying to contain beauty in a single theoretical framework. Consider how flowers came to be and how we grew to love them: million years ago many pollen-producing plants depended on the wind to spread their pollen and reproduce. But certain insects, perhaps beetles and flies, began to eat those protein-rich pollen grains, inadvertently transporting them from one plant to another.

This proved to be a much more efficient means of fertilization than capricious air currents. Plants with the richest and most obvious sources of pollen were especially successful. Likewise, insects that were particularly adept at finding pollen had an advantage over their peers. Through a long process of co-evolution, plants and pollinators transformed one another. Some plants began to modify their leaves into proto-flowers: little flags that marked the location of their pollen. Bold colors and distinctive shapes helped them stand out in a tangle of green. Nectar sweetened the deal.

Insects, birds and mammals began competing for access, evolving wings, tongues and brains better suited to the quest for floral sustenance. As the pressure from both parties intensified, plants and their pollinators formed increasingly specific relationships, hurtling each other toward aesthetic and adaptive extremes — a bird that hums and hovers like an insect, an orchid that mimics the appearance and scent of a female bee.

Many millions of years later, flowers enchanted yet another species. Perhaps the initial attraction was purely utilitarian: the promise of fruit or grain. Maybe we were captivated by their consonance of color, form and aroma. Whatever the case, we adopted numerous flowering plants into an expanding circle of domesticated species.

We brought them into greenhouses and laboratories, magnifying their inherent beauty, creating new hybrids and tailoring their features to our individual tastes. We contracted orchid delirium and tulip mania, and we have never fully recovered.