‘The peacock’s tail,’ said Charles Darwin, ‘makes me sick.’ That’s because the theory of evolution as adaptation can’t explain why nature is so beautiful. It took the concept of sexual selection for Darwin to explain that, a process that has more to do with aesthetics than the practical. David Rothenberg’s new book, Survival of the Beautiful, is a revolutionary examination of the interplay of beauty, art, and culture in evolution. Taking inspiration from Darwin’s observation that animals have a natural aesthetic sense, philosopher and musician Rothenberg probes why animals, humans included, have innate appreciation for beauty – and why nature is, indeed, beautiful. Sexual selection may explain why animals desire, but it says very little about what they desire. Why will a bowerbird literally murder another bird to decorate its bower with the victim’s blue feathers? Why do butterfly wings boast such brilliantly varied patterns? The beauty of nature is not arbitrary, even if random mutation has played a role in evolution. What can we learn from the amazing range of animal aesthetic behaviour about animals and about ourselves? A brilliant investigation into why nature is beautiful and how art has influenced science. Scientist Philip Ball said it ‘moves the debate about the biology of aesthetics beyond the cosy fables of evolutionary psychology to probe the deep nature of art and its origins. Both provocative and generous, Rothenberg’s work is pervaded with a sense of wonder at and appreciation of the world.’ David Rothenberg is in conversation with writer and commentator, Jay Griffiths, whose books include Wild: An Elemental Journey.
David Rothenberg is Professor of Philosophy and Music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the author of books including Thousand Mile Song and Why Birds Sing. His articles have appeared in Parabola, The Nation, Wired, Dwell, and Sierra. www.davidrothenberg.net – follow the links to Survival of the Beautiful for reviews etc. His last CD on ECM records was “One Dark Night I Left My Silent House.”
Jay Griffiths’ books include Anarchipelago, a story about the British anti-roads protests; Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time, a manifesto for time and against clocks; and the award-winning Wild: An Elemental Journey. Her latest book, A Love Letter from a Stray Moon, a fictionalised biography of Frida Kahlo, is a tribute to the Mexican painter and to Subcomandante Marcos and the rebellion at the heart of art. www.jaygriffiths.com
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