An evolutionary theory of beauty

Beauty is hard-wired in us TED collaborates with animator Andrew Park to illustrate Denis Dutton's provocative theory on beauty -- that art, music and other beautiful things, far from being simply "in the eye of the beholder," are a core part of human nature with deep evolutionary origins.

It is very interesting to consider that the concept of beauty may be hard-wired into us. I certainly believe that it is. But I find that my beliefs don’t always match up to what is in the mainstream consciousness or even in academia. It was encouraging for me to find  that Philosopher Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, & Human Evolution and Professor at University of Canturbury in New Zealand, feels the same way. Although, he arrives at this point by a much different argument than I would pose. The video above is a collaboration between TEDTalks and animator Andrew Park, who illustrates Denis Dutton’s provocative argument about beauty.

Furthering our evolution through beauty

I’d like to go even further down the evolutionary path that Prof. Dutton lays out in this talk to propose that beyond the pointed purposefulness of Darwinian selection (both natural and sexual), which gives us some clues about the essential and universal nature of beauty, there is another end to our fascination of beauty and attraction to it. Prof. Dutton alludes to what I’m referring when mentioning that evolution tricks us into preserving ourselves and our habitats by instilling in us a sense of beauty and its ensuing appreciation. Yet he stops short.

Connect more deeply

Prof. Dutton would agree that we develop a profound acuity to detect and appreciate beauty in our world in order to connect more deeply with each other and with our surroundings (i.e., architecture and nature) as part of this self-preservation. I would like to suggest that this connection with others and our natural world has a further purpose–it leads us to compassion. We may have evolved with a sense of beauty partly for the purpose of self-preservation within the Darwinian system, but perhaps our sense of beauty is also a natural tool for a higher evolution than we already know. Many give lip service to the idea of compassion, but true compassion includes stewardship of our lands, caring for each other, and engendering peace. As a species we still have far to go in these categories.

Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty

I’m reminded of my favorite quote/bumper sticker: “Practice random kindness and senselessacts of beauty” from Anne Herbert, in my mind, they are connected ~ beauty and compassion.

Read more about Denis Dutton, Professor of Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics,  Arts & Letters Daily and the TEDtalks.

On a personal note, it thrills me that this topic is getting some play in popular culture. Many of you may not know that I have a Master’s Degree in Philosophy of Aesthetics, so this topic is very dear to my heart and mind.

Jen MurphyComment