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Thread: Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty

  1. #31
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    Fascinating discussion. Chris I love reading your ideas.
    You said a lot of very interesting things but one point was that "Scopians in general appear 'more beautiful' than flies do they not?"
    Theres a great example of aesthetics governed by Darwinism; flies are ugly because they have caused us so much harm in our evolutionary past, and we have developed a strong aversion to them. So while defining the nature of and reasons for beauty to be percieved is way over my head, I think ugliness often has a very real, Darwinist origin. Google trypophobia if you dont believe me...

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    Alas, I have a cap on my data and cannot watch long videos online. Judged by the comments, the guy is saying that much of human cultural expression serves the same purpose as peacock feathers. Which is something I have long thought myself.

    But it can be tricky to test such theories, and there is of course always a temptation to fold any and all evidence into it.

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    "much of human cultural expression serves the same purpose as peacock feathers. Which is something I have long thought myself."

    Thats definitely how it started out, but with our magic combination of eyes hands and giant frontal lobes we now have Goya and Curb Your Enthusiasm and photos of Earth from the moon.
    Human cultural expression is to peacock feathers what quantum computing is to an abacus.

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    darwinistic antibeauty eeeeeeeep


    http://trypophobia.net/
    http://vimeo.com/4974886

    Last edited by Velocity Kendall; October 16th, 2011 at 02:58 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Velocity Kendall View Post
    Fascinating discussion. Chris I love reading your ideas.
    You said a lot of very interesting things but one point was that "Scopians in general appear 'more beautiful' than flies do they not?"
    Theres a great example of aesthetics governed by Darwinism; flies are ugly because they have caused us so much harm in our evolutionary past, and we have developed a strong aversion to them. So while defining the nature of and reasons for beauty to be percieved is way over my head, I think ugliness often has a very real, Darwinist origin. Google trypophobia if you dont believe me...
    But Scorpions aint that friendly either. (In fact Mr Kendall got his nickname by a reputation for getting out of their way!)

    Certainly beauty in humans is strongly related to sexual appeal. Physically fit youngsters are more appealing than older people. And of the physically fit youngsters the ones with regular features tend to find their way into the centre of the bell curve distribution regarding consensus of attractiveness.

    But sexual attraction as the motive for beauty cannot be extrapolated to include all phenomena of what we find beautiful. Personally speaking I would not want to have sexual relations with the Parthenon, the films of Stanley Kubrick, my new Kitchen, the novels of Thomas Hardy or a scorpion...

    But as metaphors for 'wholeness', the ultimate granting and therefore cessation of the ultimate desire; all the items listed above fit. Including the sexual attraction model.


    BTW: Thanks for the compliment Mr Kendall (I've always wanted to ask you - is yout name a sort of pun on the british actress Felicity Kendal? - Just gotta put my mind at rest on this!)

    Last edited by Chris Bennett; October 17th, 2011 at 04:57 AM.
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    I find especially the landscape argument very weak.

    This is one uuugly painting. Who could hide from predators in that tree?


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    "But Scorpions aint that friendly either."

    I have a big black one framed on my wall. I suppose it has a sort of savage beauty.
    Babies prefer symetrical faces, Im with Bacon; There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
    Often things you dislike initially aquire something over time; from coffee and beer to the music of autechre, stuff i once hated now i love..

    "Personally speaking I would not want to have sexual relations with the Parthenon, the films of Stanley Kubrick, my new Kitchen, the novels of Thomas Hardy or a scorpion..."

    No? 2001 is pretty sexy..

    "is yout name a sort of pun on the british actress Felicity Kendal?"

    Yep. spelling isnt really my thing though, hence too many Ls

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    Quote Originally Posted by Velocity Kendall View Post
    darwinistic antibeauty eeeeeeeep


    http://trypophobia.net/
    http://vimeo.com/4974886


    I can't even read that because of the image and was too afraid to scroll down. Does that mean I have trypophobia? What is that thing, I don't even want to google it.

    haha, oh wow.

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    its a seed pod photoshopped onto someones back. The point is that a close pattern of holes in flesh is the result of a specific tropical insect infestation, which we instinctively find so ugly, its proposed, because in our history they have hurt us, and aversion resulted in a survival benefit. Same for our aversion of all creepy crawlies..
    Think about swooning at the sight of gore, ie a drop in blood pressure which causes a person to lie down (fainting) has to be one of the stronger responses to an image, and presumably results from our ancestors with this trait being selected for.

    Of course, human culture is orders of magnitude more complex than the simple animal behaviours it has its origins in, just as life is vastly more complex than the periodic table, and beauty is one of its most subtle concepts but those are the foundations everythings built on.
    Perhaps the kind of beauty associated with elegance, ie mathmatical beauty, comes from the fact that elegant schemes use less energy etc etc etc...
    I love a youtuhbe UFO video and some of the bafflingly complex crop circles that seem to appear in minutes in english fields display musical harmonics not found in nature (except in our minds), or novel ways of doing maths like squaring the circle, which is kind of interesting.
    Also, despite the suppose intrinsic aesthetic beauty of fractals, I think those hippy fractal images are ugly as fuck. the mandlebrot is so called for a reason, it looks like a little fat gingerbread man. whys that? maybe to aliens he's the venus de milo..

    my chattering aside, i totally agree wtih chris that the purity and wholeness of natural beauty and the best human art, music, maths, is mataphorical of an intense pure emotional response, and can inspire such..

    Last edited by Velocity Kendall; October 17th, 2011 at 06:03 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Serpian View Post
    I find especially the landscape argument very weak.

    This is one uuugly painting. Who could hide from predators in that tree?
    Contrary to popular opinion, humans have not had to hide from predators for a 100 000 years. Wild animals are typically absolutely terrified of humans, and with good reason.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Velocity Kendall View Post
    The point is that a close pattern of holes in flesh is the result of a specific tropical insect infestation, which we instinctively find so ugly, its proposed, because in our history they have hurt us, and aversion resulted in a survival benefit. Same for our aversion of all creepy crawlies..
    The theory doesn't really hold much weight. Humans have been eating bot flies for a long time. They're high in protein and considered a bit of a delicacy. What's more, human botfly infections are pretty much the equivalent of pin worm infections -- they might be annoying if you notice them at all, but they're fairly innocuous. A botfly takes 6-8 weeks to mature, and that can only happen if the host stays healthy... and a month and a half is a long time to keep a host healthy with an open wound. As such, they don't cause much in the way of pain or infection. You pretty much only get an infection from those suckers if you try to remove the larva and leave a piece of it behind. There is a certain grotesqueness -- particularly being fed off of -- but wouldn't we be more inclined to fear the deadly ones, like kissing bugs, in which case we'd be talking about an irrational fear of asymmetric facial swelling and black dots on bedding, not series of holes and botflies. And if we are talking disgusting parasites that cause torment and skin holes, I'd put my money on the guinea worm, because yuck.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Julie G View Post
    Contrary to popular belief, human evolution isn't the only thing effecting our evolutionary drives. While a human may not have had to hide from predators for 100,000 years, which I doubt, they spent over 100,000,000 years more closely resembling a mouse or squirrel that finally resembles a monkey where probably every stage in between had to hide from something. 100,000,000 years of evolution doesn't get erased that easily.
    Maybe, maybe not. I am somewhat skeptical of evolutionary psychology in a general sort of way; claims can often be difficult to test. Our evolution surely must to some extent influence our preferences and how we view the world. Not sure how much, or to what level of detail, such influences would go. And a lot of it must be cultural.

    An example occurs to me: poisonous insects are often brightly coloured. So are sweet, edible fruit. Animals that function mainly on instinct presumably know instinctively to avoid creepy crawly colourful things and to taste stationary colourful things that hang on trees.

    Human babies, on the other hand, will cheerfully reach to any colourful thing, pick it up and stuff it into their mouths. In hunter-gatherer societies they are presumably carefully watched while they are still small, and later taught by adults, what to eat and what to avoid.

    Hence arguments that humans have an instinctive, inborn preference for this or that can be problematic. On the other hand such arguments cannot be summarily dismissed either. I think it all rests on whether a particular claim can be tested, and the outcome of the test.

    As I said before, I have a cap on my monthly data so I could unfortunately not watch the video that the whole debate is about, thus I am not too sure what everyone, including myself, is even talking about. ;-)

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  14. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by erinc View Post
    I'd put my money on the guinea worm, because yuck.
    exactly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Julie G View Post
    Well, by definition we won't know about evolutionary psychology definitively, but there are other cases of evolutionary inertia.

    The fruit example isn't exactly a good one. Monkeys have been eating fruit for a long time as have rodents, and we can guess that even out distant ancestor have. In addition, the red-green receptors found in primates are a relatively recent evolutionary adaption - most (I think all) other mammals lack them entirely. I don't think that other animals shy away from brightly colored fruit, or there may not have been the proper color receptor for much of mammalian evolution, so it's difficult to say which would have had an effect (if any). Also, when was the last time you saw a puppy or a kitten shying away from anything brightly colored? I think you may be assuming an instinct that isn't there.
    It could be. Most mammals do not see colour very well, and the ones that do might well be lacking in instinct and learn from their parents just like we do. On the other hand, birds can see colour well. But then, perhaps they also simply learn by experience which colourful things are nice to eat and which are not. I don't know what, if any, research has been done on this issue.

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    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/why-beauty-matters/

    "Religion is a substiture for beauty"

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    Art and religion are related because they both deal with emotions and epiphanies experienced by the few and then shared with the many. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Art%3F
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Var...ous_Experience

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    Yeah.
    Art (Poetic literature, Music, Painting) is a meta-language we human's have invented to communicate a process where we kinda glue our remembered experience together into something that relates to a 'wholeness'.

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    This discussion reminded me of a book I just love, Carl Sagan's "Shadows of forgotten ancestors".... interesting read, and really gives you food for thought about just how connected to everything.
    http://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Forgot.../dp/0345384725

    Recently I heard someone talk about the golden rule, and how it is found in so many places in nature, practically down to molecular level... since we're all made of that stuff, no wonder it tends to resonate.... I'm thinking what resonates with us in a certain way, we tend to find beautiful, appealing, interesting, calming... whatever positive emotions and other experience it may evoke.

    Then again, words just seem so inadequate to explain that 'something' at least for me.

    Last edited by Conniekat8; November 11th, 2011 at 07:17 AM.
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    Many thanks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Conniekat8 View Post
    Recently I heard someone talk about the golden rule, and how it is found in so many places in nature, practically down to molecular level... since we're all made of that stuff, no wonder it tends to resonate.... I'm thinking what resonates with us in a certain way, we tend to find beautiful, appealing, interesting, calming... whatever positive emotions and other experience it may evoke.
    If memory serves, some research was actually done on this, in that they showed a collection of rectangles to subjects and requested them to choose the one they found most appealing. Almost everyone chose the golden rectangle or something close to it.

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    ok, here I googled something similar to the talk: http://www.world-mysteries.com/sci_17.htm
    There's also a book the showed, I need to try and remember which one. I see the link I just found has book recommendations at the bottom, but I don't see the cover among them.

    Edit: Here's the book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Beginners-Guid...073167&sr=1-17 (I haven't actually read it, that's the oine they mentioned as an interesting read.)

    Personally, I always intuitively thought there has to be an underlying reason why we like what we like, and that in many cases (when looked in the scope pf averages) it tends to boil down to some basic rules the repetitiveness throughout the nature. After all, even though the complexities of various matter and organisms can vary greatly, if you look close enough, we're all made of the same stuff. To me that means there has to be a few common denominators in there.

    Of course, the flip side of the coin is, the bigger the complexity of something, the more individual variations can occur. Something that always tends to be a non-scientific turnoff for the lay person, when looking at the scientific theories is that they don't appear to account for much in the individual variations... well... they do, however, scientific theories deal with generalities and averages, to find a middle of the road direction, while individual perspectives can vary greatly. I think some people get irked, because their individual perspectives can be significantly different from scientific averages, and that can feel invalidating.

    I was going to say 'even scientific theories' then I caught myself in a poor choice of words, and think I should say "ESPECIALLY" scientific theories are subject to revisions, all the time, whenever new bit of information is uncovered. It's how it's supposed to work. Scientific is not to be confused with 'absolute'.

    Anyway, I digressed a bit into a pet peeve of mine, about how many (especially scientists) tend to lose track of this.

    Aside from numerical and physical science, psychologically, I strongly believe that much of what we end up seeing as appealing or vice versa can also be heavily molded by our individual (genetic?) makeup and environmental and social experiences. Even looking at Darwinian theory of evolution, we find all kinds of specialized adaptations... while there are certain mainstreams, there also seems to be a hierarchy (on occasion changeable hierarchy) of which traits will evolve in a more general direction, and which ones will develop specialized adaptations.

    Anyhow, it can be entertaining to ponder this stuff.

    Last edited by Conniekat8; November 12th, 2011 at 12:03 AM.
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