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Survival of the Beautiful

Date: 03/11/13
Time: 5:30pm
Audience: Public
Sponsored By: EvoS Program, EvoS Club, and CAS
Location: LC102
Contact: Briana Tauber (EvoS Assistant), x2379,

A talk by David Rothenberg, musician and philosopher, from the Department of Humanities at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Survival of the Beautiful- Why did the peacock’s tail so trouble Charles Darwin? Natural Selection could not explain it, so he had to contrive a whole new theory of sexual selection, which posited that certain astonishingly beautiful traits become preferred even when not exactly useful, simply because they appealed to the opposite sex, and specifically so in each case. And yet the parallels in what gets preferred at different levels of life suggest that nature may in fact favor certain kinds of patterns over others. Visually, the symmetrical; colorwise, the contrasting and gaudy; displaywise, the gallent and extreme. Soundwise, the strong contrast between low note and high, between fast rhythm and long clear note. For that matter, plenty of beauty in nature would seem to arise for reasons other than mere sexual selection: for example, the mysterious inscriptions on the backs of seashells, or the compounding geometric symmetries of microscopic diatoms, or the live patterns pulsating across the bodies of octopus and squid. Humans see such things and find them astonishingly beautiful: are we wrong to experience Nature in such terms? Far greater than our grandest edifices and epic tales, Nature itself nevertheless seems entirely without purposeful self-consciousness or self-awareness. Meanwhile, though we ourselves are as nothing compared to it, we still seem possessed of a parallel need to create. So: can we in fact create our way into better understanding of the role of beauty in the vast natural world?