Evo-Psych: Scientifically Appreciating the Significance of Human Art & Creativity

My ideas about this have been coalescing for years, but especially while watching a round table with Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, neurologist Oliver Sacks, art curator Ann Tempkin, and artists Richard Serra and Chuck Close. The show itself was criticized somewhat for lack of insight, but from my perspective, I think that most people out there unfortunately just don't yet realize the significance of art & creativity in human evolution.

What hit me while watching this show was not so much any specific description of the how of art and creativity in the brain, but the why. The specifics of how or what we like about about art, music (and dance?), language, beauty, and so on are not nearly as important as the fact that we appreciate them so much. Some of us have strong opinions about different styles, and they almost always feel especially significant to each of us at our own, personal level. We each can elevate our personal taste to the level of mavenry. But I repeat, what's important to human cultural evolution is less about the specific, personal details of what each of us appreciates, and more about just having the appreciation, preferences, even at times to the extent of feeling snobbish about how my taste is better than other tastes.

Whether or not one's taste (wrt specific aspects of humanities) is or isn't better or worse than another human's taste, feeling that one's specific taste is better than others is what drives each of us to not only appreciate and elevate specific art forms (including language), but it even drives a few of us to create new and interesting art forms and body language, e.g. even when it comes to how we want to artistically express our individual status to society with our body appearances, including clothing, makeup, piercings, tattoos, and so on.

This drive to be appreciative and creative wrt human form and product was especially important in the development of language. Perhaps it can even be argued that excessively-pretty language, avant garde or radically embellished art and music, super sexy dancing, and so on are just excess, cultural plumage akin to genetically produced plumage (e.g. as in peacock feathers). In any case, it seems quite clear to me that just having an urge to appreciate and produce human culture in a general sense is enough to drive each of us to interact with and appreciate each other socially, which served us greatly in the beginnings of our cultural evolution.

If I can summarize: Specific preferences wrt language, music, art, beauty, and other humanities are not as important in-specific as is just the urge to feel that these things are important, in order that we as a society can be more culturally interactive and creative. Just the urge to be culturally interactive and creative is enough to propel humanity's ever-advancing culture, when its positive products outweigh its negative products over a period of time. (Granted, I didn't get much into how this happens, or its history.) Another way to put this is that mavenry produces its own, overall positive selection effects in memes and eventual cultural advancement.

A couple of side notes wrt terminology. I'm still a new reader in this field, and any suggestions here from real scientists would be appreciated. I'm trying to deal with a schism here; how to be scientific vs how to enlighten non-scientists, whenever possible.

1) I think there's too much conflation in explanations of genetic and cultural evolution, at least in the armchair science community. (I feel guilty saying that I'm in that community, but I have to be honest about it, and perhaps I can help to improve our condition.) I think perhaps cultural evolution should have a more unique title without the word "evolution" in it, to help people understand that culture is not just a kind of genetic "phenotype". Even the term "Evo-Psych" should probably not have "Evo" in it, but something else.

2) I'm currently thinking the word "mavenry" is better than "snobbery" in the current context. However, I also think that the effects we mostly see in today's modern society are the excess result of our earlier, vastly productive mavenry, and much of it can be seen now culturally in terms of plumage or snobbery. I don't want to overuse such a negative word as snobbery, but "plumage" might also deserve a separate, corresponding word with its own, uniquely-cultural connotation.

Views: 53

Comment by Pope Beanie on January 14, 2011 at 10:52pm

Enjoy this 3-minute long music/dance empathy test. Er, video.


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