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aesthetic experience in the evolutionary perspective

Hominid evolution and the aesthetic experience

Albert Magro
p. 99-116

Abstract

The overall objective is to explore the question of why our DNA is encoded to actualize an aesthetic experience that is autonomic and cognizant. It is proposed that the aesthetic experience is an adaptation selected by providing relief form the psychophysiological disorders that can arise from life’s burdens. It is further proposed that our aesthetic response to human form is an adaptation brought about by selecting alleles that generate an avoidance of mating with closely related species thus reducing the risk of having less fit offspring, sterile offspring or no offspring. It is noted that with regard to human form apomorphic anatomical traits are attractive and plesiomorphic anatomical traits are unattractive. The term for this attitude has been coined cross species avoidance. The issue were addressed by interfacing philosophical aesthetics with evolutionary principles.

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Testo integrale

1. Genomic selection and an emerging population

  • 1 Clutton-Brock 1990.

1This paper explores the idea that the ability of humans to have an aesthetic experience is the result of an evolutionary process. The gold standard, as a theory of evolution, is Darwinian natural selection. Simply put, natural selection is a process that requires genetic variability, selection pressures, heritability and fitness. An inherent component of fitness is the tendency of fit individuals to be more successful than their peers reproductively which is often referred to as differential reproductive success1. Darwinian natural selection is regularly labeled adaptive evolution. As a point of clarification, one of the requisites for an adaptation is for individuals within a population to have a variety of pre-existing alleles of genes that are subject to selection and thereby successfully meet the challenge that differentially reduces the fitness of those who do not possess those alleles. Upon passing on alleles that render fitness to their progeny, the particular phenotypic trait that overcomes the selection pressure and appears as a dominant feature in the subsequent populations, is referred to as an adaptation. Thus, an adaptation is not a change in the alleles due to pressure but rather the outcome of selecting existing alleles of genes and can be identified as a transgenerational character of subsequent populations.

  • 2 Fisher 1930. See also Haldane 1932; Wright 1932; Dobzhansky 1937; Mayr 1942.
  • 3 Huxley 1942.
  • 4 Corning 1997.

2The aesthetic experience could have arisen by Darwinian natural selection or could be the result of a combination of evolutionary processes. Beginning in the early 20th century, there developed a fusion of genetics and evolution which has advanced mechanisms in addition to natural selection2. This fusion is referred to as the modern synthesis3. Some of the mechanisms of the modern synthesis are grounded in population genetics and include: genetic drift, the founder effect, migration, and allopatric or peripatric isolation. Many of the proposed mechanisms of evolution, other than strict natural selection, are due to the random meiotic mixing of alleles during gamete formation and subsequent procreation that significantly changes the allele frequencies of the following generations as compared to the original population. Initially, this occurs just by chance in a manner that is analogous to statistical sampling. In small isolated breeding populations (demes) the probability of this type of chance mixing is greatly increased and the proposed mechanisms can be an important evolutionary process. Evolutionary theorists are tending to view the process of evolution as consisting of an array of mechanisms which they refer to as holistic Darwinism4.

3Looking back in our ancestry, is it reasonable to speculate that that at some point in hominid evolution fitness was bestowed by the aesthetic experience? The possibility exists that hominids of the genus Homo that are ancestral to Homo sapiens survived at a higher rate because they possessed the genetic makeup to bedelighted by wit, irony, humor, beauty in nature and beauty in human form. If this were true, the more fit individuals through differential reproductive success would pass on their genetically based aesthetic attitudes to their progeny which would eventually result in a population that is more fit by having a genomic makeup capable of actuating an aesthetic experience. This raises the following question, is the aesthetic experience in humans primarily adaptive? To have credibility as an adaptation, the trick is to explain the evolution of the aesthetic experience in terms of identifiable selection pressures.

2. Ultimate and proximate causation in biological systems

  • 5 Mayr 1961.
  • 6 Cartwright 2000.

4Over the last five decades, the principles of evolution have been applied to a number of disciplines including religious studies, psychology, ethics and aesthetics. Regardless of which discipline evolution is applied to it usually involves the identification of selection pressures that eventually result in a genomic makeup which when actuated can be referred to as ultimate causations by which ultimate arguments can be made. Ultimate causation was first proposed by Mayr within his seminal paper where he distinguishes between what he refers to as ultimate and proximate causations in biological systems5. Ultimate causes refer to the evolutionary events that have led to the information encoded in DNA. Proximate causes describe biochemical and physiological mechanisms of the occurrence in question. According to Mayr, proximate causation of an occurrence takes place when the encoded genetic program is actualized in the individual, whereas ultimate causation determines the shaping of the genetic program. Evolutionary psychologists have adopted Mayr’s ultimate and proximate descriptions6. Psychologists have applied Mayr’s ideas of causation to arguments about scientific principles that can be given in a proximate or ultimate perspective. A proximate argument addresses the how of an event in terms of biochemical and physiological factors. An ultimate argument addresses the why of an event in the context of the values of survival and procreation. Ultimate arguments are usually connected to evolutionary principles including natural selection. In this paper, evolutionary arguments will be ultimate in nature and will be based on pressures that select a genomic makeup capable of actuating an aesthetic experience and the subsequent fitness that is conferred.

3. The aesthetic experience is cognizant and involuntary

5There are adaptive biological systems that enhance fitness but are actualized by stimuli outside of our awareness. Thus, it is possible for a system to evolve solely because it bestows fitness and requires no conscious action either in its development or implementation. The immune system is a classic example. Then there are adaptations that require an active response to something we are aware of.

6The gustatory satiating response to hunger and thirst by the actions of eating and drinking is an example. Both the immune system and gustatory responses are encoded in our DNA and are most likely primeval adaptive systems. Satiation of hunger and thirst may be pleasurable, but are not considered aesthetic experiences. From an evolutionary perspective, our encoded DNA will have the ability to actualize an aesthetic experience if it bestows fitness. From a philosophical perspective the aesthetic experience transcends any conscious self-serving agenda and occurs spontaneously. How this came about depends on why the aesthetic experience evolved. It is thoroughly feasible that the ability to have an aesthetic experience evolved as an autonomic response because of the fitness that it confers. Having an immediate pleasurable awareness as part of the autonomic aesthetic response may be an essential part of the fitness that is bestowed.

4. Alfred Wallace doubted that the aesthetic experience is an adaptation

  • 7 Milner 1999.
  • 8 Darwin 2006.

7A curious historical point in delineating evolutionary connections to the aesthetic experience was the attitude of Alfred Wallace. Wallace who independently proposed natural selection as a mechanism of evolution took a waywardly path when it came to applying natural selection to the aesthetic experience. Wallace stated that he could not imagine how natural selection could bring about a number of capacities that humans possess. Among Wallace’s concerns was his doubt that natural selection could account for the ability of humans to have an aesthetic experience and make sophisticated judgments about art7. Wallace who dabbled in the occult and believed in spiritualism resorted to intelligent design instead of the biological forces of natural selection to account for the aesthetic experience in humans. Darwin, having accepted Wallace as an independent discoverer of natural selection, was dismayed. «I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child,» he wrote to Wallace in 1869, intensely disturbed that Wallace seemed to have lost his commitment when applying natural selection to humans88. Ironically as early as 1815, Schopenhauer had already laid the foundation for an explanation of how the aesthetic experience in humans could have come about as an adaptation.

5. The aesthetic experience as a release from the burden

  • 9 Gill 2011.
  • 10 Hutcheson 1725/1971.
  • 11 Shelley 2012.

8There is an interesting confluence of ideas emanating from philosophical aesthetics and evolutionary biology. The foundation for an argument made here for the aesthetic experience in terms of the evolutionary concepts of survival and fitness has its roots in the explorations of 18th and 19th century philosophical aestheticians. The 18th century philosopher Lord Shaftesbury9 was the first to propose that aesthetic appreciation is essentially devoid of promoting one’s own interests (aesthetic disinterestedness). He considered the aesthetic experience an inner sense that was mind dependent. Francis Hutcheson, who wrote the first modern treatise dedicated to aesthetics10, was supportive of Lord Shaftesbury’s ideas. However, Hutcheson did not believe that the aesthetic experience is completely internal, but rather while being an inner sentiment is also reflexive and thus is in response to an exogenous stimulus11. Whether completely internal or somewhat reflexive, both Lord Shaftesbury and Francis Hutcheson believed the aesthetic experience is spontaneous, fundamentally based on sentiment and devoid of any self-serving agenda. In addition, these 18th century British philosophers of the early Enlightenment were among the first to psychologize the aesthetic experience in a modern sense, thus opening the door for aestheticians to focus on the observer’s psychological response to the exogenous stimulus. A psychological response is a biological system and as a consequence has a genomic basis. This brings us to the current interest of exploring why the ability to have an aesthetic experience evolved.

  • 12 Schopenhauer 1883/1945; see also Shapshay 2012.
  • 13 Grier 2012.
  • 14 Ford 2007.

9If the aesthetic experience is an adaptation, one overriding question is, what fitness does the aesthetic experience confer? The 19th century German philosopher Schopenhauer puts us on the path to answer this question with his elegant and unique perspective about the aesthetic response. First, in contrast to some of the 18th century German Idealists, Schopenhauer was more in keeping with Shaftesbury and Hutcheson for he did not believe that the aesthetic response starts from judgment, but rather from an immediate experience which occurs before the spectator attempts to formulate a judgment of taste about that experience12. Also, in addressing the enigma of what drives the animate world, Schopenhauer created a nebulous drive within a Kantian like noumena13 which he coined, the will. One interpretation of the phenomenological expression of the will is that there is a compulsion to fulfill our subjective desires along with our drive to live14. Furthermore, as sentient beings, our egocentric sense, in tension with our required obligations in servitude to the will, creates a burden that occupies our consciousness in an acute and involved way; the point being that a realization and sometime confliction to the obligations generated by the will creates suffering. Schopenhauer proposed a creative solution for those negative psychological and physiological effects that can arise from the burden. He maintained that the aesthetic experience is one of the ways we obtain a release from the burden. This is in keeping with Shaftesbury’s and Hutchinson’s idea of disinterestedness. If the aesthetic experience involved some obligation or self-serving agenda, it would be an integral part of the burden and could not be consistent with Schopenhauer’s idea that the aesthetic experience provides a release from the burden.

6. Schopenhauer’s release of the burden in evolutionary terms

  • 15 Selye 1976.
  • 16 McEwen 1998; see also Cohen et al. 2007.
  • 17 Schoenemann 2006.
  • 18 Leakey 1976; see also Plummer 2004.
  • 19 Leakey et al. 1964; see also Brown et al. 1985, Rightmire 1998 and Baker 2011.
  • 20 McBrearty and Brooks 2000; see also Henshilwood and Marean 2003.

10A goal is to couch Schopenhauer’s release of the burden in evolutionary terms. The evolution of the psychological makeup of Homo sapiens, being in constant tension with our required obligations in servitude to the will, without relief, would reduce fitness. There are known disorders brought on by constant stress15 which could reduce fitness by inducing psychophysiological illnesses16. These types of disorders are more apt to arise in species that have a high degree of rational and cognitive abilities. Incidentally, Alfred Wallace also stated that he could not imagine how natural selection could bring about the high degree of intelligence that humans possess. Wallace’s concerns aside, it can be determined from stone artifacts and the fossil record that over the last 2 million years hominids of the genus Homo evolved an increase in intelligence17 and technology18. It is proposed that these intelligent hominids of the genus Homo19, that are ancestral to Homo sapiens, would benefit by possessing the genetic makeup to be delighted by wit, irony, humor, beauty in nature and beauty in human form. They would have a higher fitness by negating the detrimental psychophysiological effects of being in tension with the obligations generated by the will. Thus, the more fit individuals would survive at a higher rate and through differential reproductive success pass on their genes to their progeny which would sustain future populations having a genomic makeup capable of actuating an aesthetic experience. Eventually, the highly intelligent, highly cognitive hominid, Homo sapiens, appeared20 inheriting genes capable of actuating an aesthetic experience.

  • 21 Brooks and Wiley 1988.

11As proposed by Schopenhauer, there is a continuous burden that stems from life forms maintaining their existence which necessitates the obligation of maintaining an ordered state. In a manner, all life forms are condemned because all organisms must be energy opportunistic and have patterns of survival that create order when disorder is more apt to spontaneously occur21. Of course, not all organisms are highly sentient and although under the obligation of maintaining order may not be subject to psychological suffering. With regard to humans a web of arguments can be made as a general overview as to why a genomic makeup capable of actuating an aesthetic experience evolved as an adaptation through selection by the burden of existence. In support of the idea of an existing burden, it can be noted that successful artists, novelists, poets, singers, musicians, composers, actors, comedic entertainers and sports figures are substantially financially rewarded precisely because their talent and creative activities enable their audience to psychologically escape from life’s burdens. The case made would be strengthened further by providing a specific example of a normative aesthetic experience that could be selected by relieving a describable chronic burden that could bring about a well-known psychophysiological disorder.

7. The aesthetic experience to the beauty of nature: An adaptation to overcome an acute burden

12What kind of selection pressure could bring about an adaptation like the aesthetic appreciation for the sights and sounds of the dawn? It is normatively understood that viewing the violet and golden colors that foretell the dawn, the shape and light of a rising sun and particularly a rising full moon initiate an aesthetic experience. It is no wonder that there are so many songs and poems celebrating the light of the sun and the moon.

  • 22 Kacelnik and Krebs 1983.

13Birds singing in the morning, exalting God for all the beauties of nature was a conventional Catholic view of the Middle Ages. Saint Francis, who is the patron saint of animals, is purported to have viewed the early morning singing of birds as praise to God for the splendor and gifts of nature including the rivers for their thirst and tall trees for their nests. The birds sing as a welcoming of the Sun which brings food and warmth. As for the modern scientific viewpoint, the singing of birds is devoid of any romantic, religious or aesthetic aspects. It states that the dawn chorus signifies warning signals given by each bird as it announces an establishment of its territory for the purposes of courtship, nesting and food getting which are fundamental to breeding and survival22. Thus, the morning chorus that we find so pleasing is actually an aggressive act from one bird to the others. If the chirping is effective, the other birds would find it rather threatening not aesthetically pleasing. Then why is the sound of singing birds aesthetically pleasing to humans?

  • 23 White et al. 2009; see also Lovejoy et al. 2009.
  • 24 Crompton et al. 2010.
  • 25 Wang et al. 2004.

14To begin with, most primates are arboreal. Early hominids dating back more than 4 million years were facultative bipedal capable of walking on the ground as well as being arboreal23. Hominids eventually evolved to be obligate bipedal losing the anatomical structures required to be arboreal. Humans are visual animals with a relatively poor sense of smell. In the dark, olfactory competent predators have a tremendous advantage over humans who are sight competent, but relatively olfactory incompetent. For ground dwelling, physically weak hominids the night can be dangerous. It is not surprising that the transition to a fully ground walking existence, devoid of the anatomical structures necessary for an arboreal existence, took millions of years to evolve24. The postcranial fossils of the extinct hominid Homo erectus indicate that they were fully obligate bipedal and first appeared in Africa more than 1.6 mya25. One can only imagine how stressful it was for our ancestors, as visually oriented hominids with little olfactory capability, to make it through a moonless cloudy night in Africa with powerful ground dwelling predators that could negotiate their surroundings by their sense of smell. Specifically with regard to our longtime misinterpretation of the singing of birds, it can be said that the reason we have anthropomorphically misrepresented the meaning of the singing of birds at dawn is because of our aesthetic response to their singing. However, the birds harbinger the ensuing light and an end to the dark of the night. What is proposed here is that the aesthetic response to the dawn chorus of singing birds was a genomic selection to reduce the acute burden of the night.

  • 26 Pitman et al. 2012.
  • 27 Tomb 1994; see also Bovin and Marx 2011.

15There are a number of psychophysiological disorders that can be brought on by acute and chronic stress. For the purposes of illustration, let us focus on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is a most prevalent and well delineated psychophysiological disorder. For our highly cognitive, obligate bipedal hominid ancestors, the moonless night was most likely an acute burden accompanied by intense fear, horror, and helplessness. This is exactly the prescription that can give rise to the condition PTSD26. PTSD can alter one’s psychological equilibrium. It can lead to disordered information processing to such an extent that one experiences a loss of reality and has false constructs. One consequence can be reliving the fear and horror of the traumatic event along with perceiving threats that no longer exist causing an inability to negotiate the present or plan for the future27. Thus, those individuals who have a genomic makeup selected to relieve the stress of the night through an aesthetic experience induced by a rising full moon, or the singing birds that usher in the dawn, or by the colors of the dawn will be aesthetically relieved. In other words, the aesthetic experience stimulated by our perceived beauty of the light of the moon or the light of the dawn is a specific example of an adaptation that has been beneficial to our fitness and most likely to the fitness of our intelligent hominid ancestors.

8. A true aesthetic experience may be unique to humans

  • 28 White et al. 2003; see also Soares et al. 2009 and Gonder et al. 2007.
  • 29 Stringer 2012.
  • 30 Oppenheimer 2011; see also Appenzeller 2012 and Callaway 2012.
  • 31 Henshilwood et al. 2011.
  • 32 Pike et al. 2012.
  • 33 Cooper and Forshaw 1977.
  • 34 Andersson 1994.

16Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa as a species about 175 to 200 kya28 and coalesced into a population in Africa that eventually became culturally modern humans29. Around 60-80 kya modern humans migrated out of Africa forming all of the contemporary races30. There is evidence that more than 100 kya, in Africa, our innate ability to have an aesthetic experience led to sophisticated creative artistic activities that transcend basic survival31. Possibly as early as 50 kya humans (Cro-Magnon) migrated into Europe. There is affirmation of sophisticated cave art in Spain dating back to 40 kya32. Noting the level of sophistication in the cultural and social interactions of modern humans it can be assumed that the lineage of our ancestral hominids evolved cultural and social interactions that became ever more complex. It is not unreasonable to postulate a synergism between the evolution of the aesthetic experience and the evolution of social and cultural sophistication. The initiation of activities like body adornment, representations of animals and oneself as creative artworks require social appreciation and a depth of feeling as part of the aesthetic experience. Aesthetic forms have become a cultural development of Homo sapiens and are expressed as human creative activities such as poetic language, the visual arts, dance and music. This interplay between the aesthetic experience, creative aesthetic activities, aesthetic judgment involving taste and the critiquing of aesthetic works is not apparent in any other social species and renders humans uniquely different from other animals. Although mate selection is not an aesthetic activity, a question that is often raised is: do birds have aesthetic experiences? For example, birds of paradise and bowerbirds display attractive visual cues33. However, these behaviors in birds have not progressed through adaptation or exaptation into creative activities outside of mate selection. Although the sexual selection34 procedures of birds may enhance their fitness and appear aesthetic to us, their behavior being confined only to mate selection and not to other aesthetic expressions raises doubt that birds have aesthetic experiences as we know them.

9. The aesthetic experience as a reduction of life’s burden is not everything nor is it the nly thing

  • 35 Meaney 1996; see also Merenlender-Wagner 2009, Myers 2012 and Herman 2012.

17A focus of this paper is the idea that the aesthetic experience is an adaptation which originally evolved as an autonomic, pleasurable response providing an escape from the psychophysiological pathologies that can arise from life’s burdens. Importantly, it needs to be understood that the aesthetic experience is not the only adaptation that has evolved as a resistance to the psychological stress brought on by life’s burdens. There is a body of literature regarding autonomic, non-cognizant, physiological mechanisms that have evolved to cope with the pathological aspects of stress35. The point being that the aesthetic experience is one of the remedies that can act synergistically with other adaptations that have evolved to cope with chronic stress. Furthermore, the role of evolution in the aesthetic experience, as emphasized here, is only a small window of all that the aesthetic experience can encompass. For example, over time as an exaptation, the aesthetic experience of being delighted by wit, irony and humor may have additional benefits like further promoting friendly, affectionate human interactions along with increasing social and cultural adhesiveness.

10. Cross species avoidance as a selection pressure for the aesthetic experience to human form

18It is normatively understood that humans can have an aesthetic reaction to human form independent of one’s passions for the purposes of procreation. This is manifested in the aesthetic experience induced by artworks of human form and even by our responses to fashion and cosmetics. An evolutionary rationale with regard to our aesthetic appreciation for human form can be made separate from the arguments of relief from life’s burdens.

  • 36 Sibley and Ahlquist 1987; see also Brunet et al. 2002 and Galik et al. 2007.
  • 37 Johanson et al. 1978; see also Dart 1925, Berg et al. 2010 and Anton 2003.
  • 38 Anderson 1939.
  • 39 Guggisberg 1975.

19The anatomical evolution of humans is manifested in the fossils of hominids. The fossils also show that throughout the evolution of hominids there was a cohabitation of closely related species. If one considers molecular hybridization evidence along with evidence of bipedalism in the fossil record, the data show that about 5 to 7 mya hominids began a path of evolution divergent from the evolution of modern chimpanzees36. Over those millions of years, varied ancestral hominids arose and subsequently became extinct37. The appearance and extinction of the hominids over those years was such that a number of hominid species coexisted by preferring to remain sexually separate from other hominid species as well as separate from closely related quadrupedal apes. Although there are a variety of quadrupedal apes that currently exist, modern humans are the only surviving bipedal hominid. To reiterate, the burden of existence, combined with high sentience, although emphasized here, are not the only pressures that can select for a human genome capable of actuating an aesthetic experience. A point to be made is that over the last 5-7 million years humans have evolved an encoded genome, that when actualized, emotionally compels us to remain sexually separate from closely related primates. This has been referred to as cross species avoidance. Avoiding mating with closely related species is an ultimate argument because attempting to procreate with closely related species runs the risk of less fit offspring, sterile offspring or no offspring at all. Two prominent examples of hybrid mating is the mating of a female horse with a male donkey producing the mule and the mating of a male lion with a tigress producing the liger. In both hybrid crossings the male offspring are sterile. On very rare occasions female mules have been successfully bred back to horses, but female mules are almost always sterile38. Fertility in female ligers is more prevalent than in female mules and there are examples of female ligers being successfully bred back to male lions39. Despite this, the back crossing of hybrid females to the males of the parenting species usually produces offspring that are less fit than either of the original species.

  • 40 Magro 1997.
  • 41 Hare 2011.
  • 42 Magro 1999.
  • 43 Magro 2012.

20We avoid mating with closely related species by visible cues. Comparing the current phenotypic traits of humans and chimpanzees clearly shows differences. Interestingly, we perceive primitive (plesiomorphic) anatomical traits unattractive and derived (apomorphic) anatomical traits attractive40. The term primitive does not imply inferior but rather it refers to ancestral traits that are no longer phenotypically expressed. The term derived refers to phenotypic traits that have become increasingly prevalent. The chimpanzee, our closest living relative, possesses a number of primitive anatomical traits that are ancestral to humans. In addition to visible anatomical differences, the rational and emotional faculties of humans are notably different from those of chimps41. Thus, it can be assumed that the emotional and perceptive abilities that bestow our aesthetic appreciation for human anatomical traits are genomic developments that have continued to be selected since humans and chimps first diverged from a common ancestor. It has been proposed that cross species avoidance is the origin of our current aesthetic appreciation for human form particularly when made noticeable by exaggerating primitive and derived anatomical traits in pop culture items40, abstractions of human form42 and figurative art43.

11. The debate of having an enhanced aesthetic response to exaggerated anatomical traits

  • 44 Zeki 1999.
  • 45 Di Dio and Gallese 2009.
  • 46 Ramachandran and Hirstein 1999.
  • 47 Hyman 2010.
  • 48 Hanson 1959.
  • 49 Watson 1913.
  • 50 Skinner 1938/1999.

21Neuroaesthetics44 is an emerging field that identifies neural correlates associated with the aesthetic experience generated by brain imaging techniques45. In terms of activities in the visual cortex, neuroasethetics gives proximate arguments (the how) regarding the aesthetic response. V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, in the context of neuroaesthetics, proposed a list of eight laws to define the aesthetic response to the visual arts46. At the top of the list was the law that in artistic representations exaggerated elements are attractive. The authors gave a number of visual examples including artistic representations of human form. They related this phenomenon to what psychologists refer to as the peak shift effect. John Hyman challenged the use of the peak shift effect to explain why exaggerations, particularly in representations of human form, are utilized by artists to elicit enhanced aesthetic responses47. Hyman’s main objection was that an empirical demonstration of the peak shift effect48 requires a positive conditioning followed by a negative one. Hyman goes on to argue that there is no evidence for positive or negative conditioning prior to humans responding to representations of human form. In essence Hyman was pointing out that the peak shift effect is a form of conditioned response which was explicitly defined by the behaviorists, Watson49 and Skinner50. The position of this present paper is that the aesthetic response to exaggerated anatomical traits is innate and is an actualization of the genome and, thus, is in the realm of ultimate causation as defined by Mayr. While I agree with Hyman that the peak shift effect was inappropriately used by Ramachandran and Hirstein, a point to be emphasized when analyzing evolutionary connections to the aesthetic experience is that selections of our past exists within our present genome. Although finding derived anatomical traits attractive is not a conditioned response in a behaviorist sense, in an evolutionary sense there is an elimination of a behavior. In terms of cross species avoidance, for example, those individuals who were inclined to mate with closely related species may have been at a fitness disadvantage to the extent that their gene pool was eliminated. On the other hand, those individuals who were inclined to mate only with their own species had their genomic makeup passed on and sustained by avoiding the pressure of sterile offspring, which is a form of positive selection that is expressed autonomically in the surviving population.

12. Combining neuroaesthetics with evolutionary aesthetics and philosophical aesthetics

22To effectively interface evolutionary principles with aesthetics, the concepts that have emanated from philosophical explorations will be the starting point. From the earliest explorations about beauty to inquiries about the aesthetic response, art criticism, the validity of cultivated aesthetic judgments, the idea of correct taste, or the necessity to describe an artwork in appropriate terms, it has been the philosophical aestheticians who have set the agenda. Over the years, philosophers have broached nearly every aesthetic concept currently imaginable. The objective of this paper was to apply evolutionary principles to the aesthetic experience.

23Perspectives from philosophical aesthetics like spontaneous response, sentiment, inner sense, disinterestedness and release from the burden were all relevant to the evolutionary arguments presented here. In fact, this paper was written in the belief that any evolutionary exploration of aesthetics devoid of the concepts that have emanated from philosophical aesthetics will be shallow and incomplete.

24Nevertheless, completely defining the aesthetic experience is an acknowledged difficult task and current arguments are likely to be incomplete. In this paper alone, there were a number of ultimate evolutionary arguments presented with regard to the aesthetic experience including: survival by stress reduction, the exaptation of mate selection leading to the aesthetic appreciation of human form, apomorphic and plesiomorphic anatomical characters as a basis for our sense of beauty of human form, avoiding mating with closely related species, and most importantly, the fitness bestowed by possessing a genomic makeup capable of actuating an aesthetic experience. Certainly, there are many more that can be listed by others. I am of the opinion that a complete delineation of the why, the how, and the ontological and epistemological importance of the aesthetic experience will require an integrated combination of the proximate data of neuroaesthetics, the ultimate arguments of evolutionary aesthetics, along with the metaphysical arguments and trend setting explorations of philosophical aesthetics.

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Note

1 Clutton-Brock 1990.

2 Fisher 1930. See also Haldane 1932; Wright 1932; Dobzhansky 1937; Mayr 1942.

3 Huxley 1942.

4 Corning 1997.

5 Mayr 1961.

6 Cartwright 2000.

7 Milner 1999.

8 Darwin 2006.

9 Gill 2011.

10 Hutcheson 1725/1971.

11 Shelley 2012.

12 Schopenhauer 1883/1945; see also Shapshay 2012.

13 Grier 2012.

14 Ford 2007.

15 Selye 1976.

16 McEwen 1998; see also Cohen et al. 2007.

17 Schoenemann 2006.

18 Leakey 1976; see also Plummer 2004.

19 Leakey et al. 1964; see also Brown et al. 1985, Rightmire 1998 and Baker 2011.

20 McBrearty and Brooks 2000; see also Henshilwood and Marean 2003.

21 Brooks and Wiley 1988.

22 Kacelnik and Krebs 1983.

23 White et al. 2009; see also Lovejoy et al. 2009.

24 Crompton et al. 2010.

25 Wang et al. 2004.

26 Pitman et al. 2012.

27 Tomb 1994; see also Bovin and Marx 2011.

28 White et al. 2003; see also Soares et al. 2009 and Gonder et al. 2007.

29 Stringer 2012.

30 Oppenheimer 2011; see also Appenzeller 2012 and Callaway 2012.

31 Henshilwood et al. 2011.

32 Pike et al. 2012.

33 Cooper and Forshaw 1977.

34 Andersson 1994.

35 Meaney 1996; see also Merenlender-Wagner 2009, Myers 2012 and Herman 2012.

36 Sibley and Ahlquist 1987; see also Brunet et al. 2002 and Galik et al. 2007.

37 Johanson et al. 1978; see also Dart 1925, Berg et al. 2010 and Anton 2003.

38 Anderson 1939.

39 Guggisberg 1975.

40 Magro 1997.

41 Hare 2011.

42 Magro 1999.

43 Magro 2012.

44 Zeki 1999.

45 Di Dio and Gallese 2009.

46 Ramachandran and Hirstein 1999.

47 Hyman 2010.

48 Hanson 1959.

49 Watson 1913.

50 Skinner 1938/1999.

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Albert Magro, «Hominid evolution and the aesthetic experience»Rivista di estetica, 54 | 2013, 99-116.

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Albert Magro, «Hominid evolution and the aesthetic experience»Rivista di estetica [Online], 54 | 2013, online dal 01 novembre 2013, consultato il 16 juin 2024. URL: http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/estetica/1439; DOI: https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/estetica.1439

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