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Junk food a strong solution of sugar elicits a

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Unformatted text preview: and powerfully activates certain taste neurons. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint: our ancestors (as Steve Pinker points out) often had to go on carbohydrate binges in preparation for enduring frequent famines. But such junk food cannot begin to compete with gourmet food in producing a complex multidimensional titillation of the palate (partly because of reasons divorced from the original evolutionary functions, e.g., peak shift and contrast, etc., applied to taste responses and partly to provide a more balanced meal that’s more nutritious in the long run). Kitsch, in this view, is visual junk food. 8. Do animals have art? Some of these universal laws of aesthetics (e.g., symmetry, grouping, peak shift) not only may hold across different human cultures but may even cross the species barrier. The male bower bird is quite a drab fellow but an accomplished architect and artist, often building enormous colorful bowers—the avian equivalent of a bachelor pad; a sort of Freudian compensation for his personal appearance, you might say. He makes elaborate entryways, groups berries and pebbles according to color similarity and contrast, and even collects shiny bits of cigarette-foil “jewelry.” Any of these bowers could probably fetch a handsome price if displayed in a Fifth Avenue gallery in Manhattan and falsely advertised as a work of contemporary art. The existence of aesthetic universals is also suggested by the fact that we humans find flowers beautiful, even though they evolved to be beautiful to bees and butterflies, which diverged from our ances196 the artful brain tors in Cambrian times. Also, principles such as symmetry, grouping, contrast, and peak shift used by birds (e.g., birds of paradise) evolved to attract other birds, but we are similarly moved by them. Richard Gregory and Aaron Schloman have pointed out to me that if universal laws exist, it might be possible to program at least some of them into a computer and thereby generate visually appealing pictures. Something along these lines was in fact attempted by Harold Cohen many years ago at UCSD, and his algorithms do indeed produce attractive pictures that fetch handsome prices. 9. Not all Western art critics were as obtuse as Sir George. Listen to the French scholar René Grousset describing the Shiva Nataraja (see Figure 4): Whether he be surrounded or not by the flaming aureole of the Tiruvasi—the circle of the world, which he both fills and oversteps— the king of the dance is all rhythm and exultation. The tambourine, which he holds with one of his right hands, calls all creatures into this rhythmic motion, and they dance in his company. The conventionalized locks of flying hair and the blown scarf tell of the speed of this universal movement, which crystallizes matter and reduces it to powder in turn. One of his left hands holds the fire which animates and devours the world in this cosmic whirl. One of the god’s feet is crushing a titan, for “this dance is...
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