Evolutionary psychology

Next victim of anti-crackpot trend: literary Darwinism?

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Goodness, this does seem to be the year for people you wouldn’t expect to, to start skewering crackpots. ( multiverse crackpot-ology (The Guardian), neuroscience crackpot-ology (David Brooks)

Now, in The New Atlantis, Micah Mattix takes a run at “literary Darwinism” in “Portrait of the Artist as a Caveman”:

As others have pointed out, stories about how art might have helped our ancestors to survive and reproduce are most successful when they are merely repeating common sense. Certainly, sexual selection is a reason for many efforts at inventiveness — a fact that we have known since time immemorial. As Shakespeare wrote, “that man that hath a tongue, I say is no man / If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.” But focusing on these apparent evolutionary origins of art may cause us to miss what matters most. Homer, the blind poet, surely had more and other motivation than a simple desire to gain the attention of his audience and teach them the theme of “reciprocal altruism.” The same can be said of his artistic successors. The sense of the sublime in Caspar David Friedrich; the losing of oneself in the ecstasy of Byrd’s Masses; the humanity yet transcendence in Dostoevsky — to attempt to explain such things solely in terms of the bare forces of evolutionary survival risks altogether explaining them away.

Staying in touch with common sense is a really good idea, but it isn’t any kind of science.

2 Replies to “Next victim of anti-crackpot trend: literary Darwinism?

  1. 1
    Barb says:

    I’m reminded of French author Destouches’ expression, “Criticism is easy, art is difficult.” The book Life Ascending, while favoring a mere biological explanation, admits: “When we ask how a process [evolution] that resembles a game of chance, with dreadful penalties for the losers, could have generated such qualities as love of beauty and truth, compassion, freedom, and, above all, the expansiveness of the human spirit, we are perplexed. The more we ponder our spiritual resources, the more our wonder deepens.”

    “Why do people pursue art so passionately?” asked Professor Michael Leyton in Symmetry, Causality, Mind. As he pointed out, some might say that mental activity such as mathematics confers clear benefits to humans, but why art? Leyton illustrated his point by saying that people travel great distances to art exhibits and concerts. What inner sense is involved? Similarly, people around the globe put attractive pictures or paintings on the walls of their home or office. Or consider music. Most people like to listen to some style of music at home and in their cars. Why? It certainly is not because music once contributed to the survival of the fittest. Says Leyton: “Art is perhaps the most inexplicable phenomenon of the human species.”

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Muscles act as metamaterials due to collective behavior, physicists show – June 21, 2013
    Excerpt: Metamaterials are defined as artificial materials that have been engineered to have unusual properties that are not found in nature.,, ,,scientists in a new study have found that biological muscles exhibit a mechanical response that also qualifies them as metamaterials: when a tetanized (maximally contracted) muscle is suddenly extended, it comes loose, and if it is suddenly shortened, it tightens up without using any of the metabolic fuel adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The researchers explained that this behavior is due to the folding and unfolding of proteins called myosin cross-bridges that play a crucial role in muscle contraction. Most interestingly, muscles appear to be finely tuned to perform close to a critical point, at which they can exhibit highly synchronized microscale behavior.,,,
    A remarkable phenomenon reported by Caruel, et al., is that, in contrast to known smart materials, the micro-mechanisms inside muscles are finely tuned to work in unison, which allows them to perform a highly synchronized stroke. Behind this collective behavior is an internal architecture with domineering long-range interactions, which has been previously overlooked in muscle studies.,,,
    Quite surprisingly, the cooperation at the nanoscale in muscles was found to be similar to magnetism; moreover, the critical point at which muscles seem finely tuned to perform near is, in this case, a direct analog of the ferromagnetic Curie point.,,,
    Why and how muscle systems are tuned to criticality is an open problem,,,
    Tuning to criticality in muscles has many intriguing parallels in other biological systems. For instance, in a 2011 paper published in Physical Review Letters, Patzelt and Pawelzik showed that when humans perform control tasks like in upright standing or while balancing a stick, their behavior also exhibits power law fluctuations, which suggests a fine-tuning of the underlying mechanical system to a critical point.,,,
    Overall, the discovery that muscles act as metamaterials due to collective behavior suggests that determining the cause of the critical behavior of muscles may lead to a paradigm change in the biomimetic design of new materials.

    The Human Body is simply amazing:

    The Human Body – You Are Amazing – video

    Human Anatomy – Impressive Transparent Visualization – Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – video

    Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour – interactive image

    “Speaking as one who has examined the original Vitruvian Man drawing, I can say that Leonardo was looking for a numerical design scheme that informs the proportions of the human body.
    The drawing began as an illustration from Vitruvius’ book, De Architectura where Vitruvius justifies the use of the square and circle as design elements because those shapes are integral to the human body: a man’s height is equal to his width (with arms outstretched) as a square, and a circle drawn with the navel as center and feet as radius is coincident with the hands’ reach.
    Leonardo also notes the other proportional relationships from Vitruvius such as the head height measures to the whole as well as the arms and hand sections.
    Leonardo then continued measuring (from the evidence of pin point indentations made by walking dividers, especially along the left vertical edge) to find more proportional relationships. He would take a measure of a part of the figure with the dividers and walk that measure along the height to see if the measure would fit an even number of times.
    From this drawing and others where Leonardo was working on the same type of problem it is evident that Leonardo believed there was a something like a unified field theory of design where everything in nature was related by numerical and geometrical design systems.
    He was one of the original ID thinkers.”
    – Dr. Ford – UD blogger

    Of note: The Vitruvian Man is a world-renowned drawing created by Leonardo da Vinci c. 1487. It is one commonly associated with the science of physiology

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