Unformatted text preview: em out more explicitly.
There are at least four possibilities—none mutually exclusive.
First, it is possible that once laws of aesthetics have evolved
(for reasons such as discovering, attending to, and identifying
objects), then they may be artificially hyperstimulated even
though such titillation serves no direct adaptive purpose, just
as saccharin tastes “hypersweet” even though it provides zero
energy and zero nutrition.
Second, as suggested by Miller, artistic skill may be an index
of skillful eye-hand coordination and, therefore, an advertisement of good genes for attracting potential mates (the “come
and see my etchings” theory). This is a clever idea that I don’t
find convincing. It doesn’t explain why the so-called “index”
takes the particular form that it does: art. After all, few
women—not even feminists!—find the ability to knit or em184 the artful brain broider attractive in a man, even though these demand excellent eye-hand coordination. My point is, why not use a much
more straightforward “index” such as proficiency in archery or
javelin throwing (which, to be sure, are attractive in a man)?
Third, there is Steve Pinker’s idea that people acquire art as
a status symbol to advertise their wealth: the “I own a Picasso,
so help me spread our genes together” theory. Anyone who has
been to a cocktail reception at an art gallery knows there’s
some truth to this.
Fourth—the idea I favor—art may have evolved as a form of
virtual reality simulation. When you imagine something—as
when rehearsing a forthcoming bison hunt or amorous encounter—many of the same brain circuits are activated as
when you really do something. This allows you to practice scenarios in an internal simulation without incurring the energy
cost or risk of a real rehearsal.
But there are obvious limits. Evolution has seen to it that
our imagery—internal simulation—isn’t perfect. A hominid
with mutations that enabled it to perfectly imagine a feast instead of having one, or imagine orgasms instead of pursuing
mates, is unlikely to spread its genes. This limitation in our
ability to create internal simulations may have been even more
apparent in our ancestors. For this reason they may have created real images (“art”) as “props” to rehearse real bison hunts
or to instruct their children. If so, we could regard art as Nature’s own “virtual reality” (just as my mirror box allows patients to actually see their phantom arm and move it—whereas
they couldn’t do so just using imagination).
185 the internet and the university Limitations of space prevent the discussion of all my other
laws in detail, but I will mention the last on my list. In many
ways it is the most important, yet the most elusive: visual
metaphor. A metaphor in literature juxtaposes two seemingly
unrelated things to highlight certain important aspects of one
of them (as when the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore referred to the Taj Mahal as “A teardrop on the c...
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- Summer '09
- artful brain