Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Science of Beauty, Part II




For he who would proceed aright in this matter … will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love and wisdom; until on that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere. ~Plato, Symposium

Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.~Michael Shermer, Scientific American

Why do we need a science of beauty? Haven’t science and art done just fine in their own domains over the last few millennia? Yes, but…

My attempt, in this and my previous column, to meld science, beauty, and art is prompted by thinking about the nature of mind. I’ve written a number of essays explaining my view of mind in nature, nature in mind. I highlighted what I view as fatal problems for the prevailing materialist conception of mind, in which mind is regarded as emerging somehow from what is generally viewed as entirely mindless. Mind is, in the alternative panpsychist philosophy that I support, ubiquitous because mind and matter are two aspects of the same thing. Where there is mind there is matter and where there is matter there is mind. As matter complexifies, so mind complexifies.

This vision of mind and matter has important ramifications also for biology and evolution because if mind is ubiquitous we realize that mind must have an important role (perhaps the starring role) in evolution, which is just another word for complexification - even though evolution can lead to simpler forms in some situations. “Sexual selection” was the term Darwin gave to the evolutionary effects of female choice in mate selection and male-male competition for mates. Many traits in the animal kingdom (and probably in other kingdoms also) stem from sexual selection, including the oft-mentioned peacock’s tail. This showy and overly large tail, it is thought, resulted not from its role in helping its owner to survive (its effect is the opposite in this regard), but to help it gain more mates and thus spread its genes to the next generation. If its role in producing more offspring outweighs any harm to its owner’s survival, it will spread as a trait.

Read the rest here.

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