Although we humans recognize instinct when we see it in animals, often we're reluctant to see it in ourselves. We prefer to rest assured that we are above all that. We are not slaves to primitive impulses. Our free-willed choices are the result of careful rational deliberation. Yet, the human race has been subjected to the same evolutionary pressures as other animals, so the lack of instinct in humans would truly be odd. It is much more likely that the process of evolution — in both natural selection and sexual selection as described by Charles Darwin — has molded our brains with particular strengths, weakness, and proclivities. Let's call these traits "human nature."
According to the late Stephen Jay Gould, for example, — art is inconsequential to human survival and procreation, and hence cannot be explained by evolution. Art is one of the inexplicable byproducts of the large human brain, a spandrel of evolution, as Gould called them.
Unlike Gould, Dutton Argues that humankind's universal interest in art is the result of human evolution. We enjoy sex, grasp facial expressions, understand logic and spontaneously acquire language—all of which make it easier for us to survive and produce children. He thinks that the interest in art belongs on this list of evolutionary adaptations.
Dutton states that the type of painting that is preferred by most people around the globe is, of course, the landscape, and a very particular landscape — one with water, food sources, trees, hiding places, and a path to perhaps another source of food or comfort. It is, in short, the savanna, the home of our Pleistocene ancestors during the period in which we became recognizably human. Our preference for this environment is wired into our brains for "savannas contain more protein per square mile than any other landscape type" as well as offering protection from predators (quickly climb up the tree).
To humans, the language ability is innate, even if the particular language a child first learns is cultural. Seemingly equally innate is the ability of children for make-believe, to construct worlds that mix fantasy (invisible teapot and teacups) with the real (tea always pours down, not up), and to keep the rules of these worlds separate and distinct. Also innate to most children (beginning at the age of 2 or so) is theory of mind — the ability to recognize that other people have internal lives similar to our own, but at the same times uniquely theirs. Consequently, perhaps the oldest art form is storytelling: What began undoubtedly with stories told around the campfire led eventually to more elaborate spoken narratives of legends, written narratives (the Iliad and Odyssey), plays, novels, film, and (much more recently) narrative-based videogames.
What's crucial is that these narratives (either historical, or partly historical, or purely fictional) help us survive. Stories give our brains an opportunity to work out contingencies of response to possible future events. (If a kitten jumps at everything that moves, it is better able to pounce on a real mouse when one shows up.) If we come upon a situation similar to one we once heard about in a story, we are much more likely to deal successfully with that situation and survive to pass on the "storytelling genes." Stories also provide examples of many kinds of people and how their minds work, and hence help us deal with others in social situations. Imaginative storytelling is one of the survival instincts that is packaged into human intelligence.
Dutton concludes that art is an inevitably intrinsic part of human nature, human intelligence, and (no one should be surprised) human sexuality.
The room without books
1 week ago