From the deployment of an even more basic

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Unformatted text preview: ns that initially evolved for other reasons, such as facilitating discrimination learning. Given our seagull chick principle, i.e., the notion that the optimally attractive stimulus need not bear any obvious surface resemblance to the original (because of idiosyncratic aspects of neural codes for perception), it is possible that new trends in morphology will start that have no immediate functional significance and may seem quite bizarre. This is different from the currently popular view that the sexual selection of absurdly large tails occurs because they are a “marker” for the absence of parasites. For example, certain fish are attracted to a bright blue spot applied by the experimenter on a potential mate, even though there is nothing remotely resembling it on the fish. I predict the future emergence of a race of blue-spotted fish even though the blue spot is not a marker of sex or of species or an advertisement for good genes that promote survival. Or perhaps a race of seagulls with striped beaks! Note that this principle sets up a positive feedback between the observer and the observed. Once a “species label” is wired into the brain’s visual circuits, then offspring who accidentally have more salient labels will survive and reproduce more, causing an amplification of the trait. That in turn will make the trait an even more reliable species label, thereby enhancing the survival of those whose brains are wired up to detect the label more efficiently. This sets up a progressive gain amplification. 6. Another way to test these ideas would be to obtain a skin con193 the internet and the university ductance response (SCR), which measures your gut-level emotional reaction to something by measuring increases in skin conductance by sweating. We know that familiar faces usually evoke a bigger response than unfamiliar ones because of the emotional jolt of recognition. The counterintuitive prediction would be that an even bigger response would be shown to a caricature or Rembrandt-like rendering of a familiar face than to a realistic photo of the same face. (One could control for the effects of novelty caused by the exaggeration by comparing this response to that elicited by a randomly distorted familiar face or an “anticaricature” that reduced rather than amplified the difference.) I am not suggesting that an SCR is a complete measure of a person’s aesthetic response to art. What it really measures is “arousal,” and arousal doesn’t always correlate with beauty—it only implies “disturbing.” Yet few would deny that “disturbing” is also part of the aesthetic response: just think of a Dali or Damien Hirst’s pickled cows. This is no more surprising than the fact that we seem to, paradoxically, “enjoy” horror movies or white-knuckle rides. Such activity may represent a playful rehearsal of brain circuits for future genuine threats, and the same could be said of visual aesthetic responses to disturbing, attention-grabbing, vi...
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