Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty





Beauty, as a notion, has always been an inseparable trait of human nature. Throughout history, the concept of beauty has long been embodied in countless works of art, either in prehistoric drawings over the caves, sculptures, paintings, literary pieces, and numerous others to mention. Its meaning, its profound effect it gives to our perception of the world, and its importance are so encompassing that without such realization, our world would not have been a colorful one we see today.

It turns out that the history of aesthetics, and its spread, is not as simple as we can imagine. Numerous research by scientists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and professionals of other disciplinary fields alike have shown that this idea has long been rooted in the process of evolution, far before even human beings started to learn speaking. And, to add more surprises, the concept of beauty is universalized in numerous other animal species, say, peacocks, which show their ornamented, kinky-colored feathers to attract their opposite sexes.

The question is: what drives creatures to convey up a concept of beauty? Where does it really originate from? Why did it become an everlasting feature of human nature, and to a broader extent, of nearly all creatures? And how could it correlate with natural selection? Denis Dutton, a philosophy professor, will explain further in the TED talk below. Watch it, and think.


Life in a microcosm



The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.

Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way. – Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), an American evolutionary scientist


Browse more for what cultural icons define about the meaning of life in Brain Pickings.

Explaining evolution, Wrecking Ball-style

Miley Cyrus has got a competitor recently.

This time, please give Carin Bondar, a Miley-obsessed evolutionary biologist, highest distinction, for struggling to ‘explain’ to all of us here the essence of natural evolution, Wrecking Ball-style, in this such heart-wrecking parody. It’s titled ‘Organisms Do Evolve’. (misspell it, and you get orgasm, instead.)

And, yes, Miley next time has to learn licking a microscope.

Listen to the song here:

Need the lyrics? She even provides them for free! Here they are:

They fought, they strained, their lives in vain
They thought, always asking why
Not blessed but shunned, the world was stunned
But facts, no one could deny

You might think you know, only just suppose
What you’re told isn’t true

Facts you can’t deny, science doesn’t lie
There is actual proof

That organisms do evolve
That giant mystery’s been solved
Creationism’s proven false
Get familiar with our phylogeny

Yes, our phylogeny.

There’s A, there’s C there’s T there’s G, 
They’re called nucleotides
The helix turns with no concern
For Gods, or religious lives

Gene diversity, stochasticity
Just the fittest survive
Then they procreate, and some genes mutate
Varied forms are derived.

Yes organisms do evolve, 
The experts have worked hard to solve
The complex processes involved
In the earth’s history

Yes organisms do evolve,
There’s no more mystery to solve,
Fundamental to life overall
Get familiar with our biology

Scholarship and science answer for
Absolute complexities within
Both extant and extinct creature forms
Understanding that is not a sin

Scholarship and science answer for
Incidents where divergence begins
Understanding that is not a sin
You might think you know, only just suppose
What you’re told isn’t true.

Cuz organisms do evolve, 
There’s no more mystery to solve
Creationism’s proven false
Get familiar with our phylogeny

Yes organisms do evolve,
Such complex processes resolved
Fundamental to life overall
Aim to understand our biology

It’s our biology

Evolution busted: this fish lives on land!




This species, named Pacific Leaping Blenny, is a living proof that the world is even more Murakami-esque than it seems.

Thank you, Improbable Research!

Bonus: learn more about this species on Courtney Morgans. Still unsatisfied? Access the full research report on Science Direct.