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<ul><li><p>8/6/2019 Brit J Aesthetics 2010 Davies 333 41</p><p> 1/9</p><p>British Journal of Aesthetics Vol. 50 | Number 4 | October 2010 | pp. 333341 DOI:10.1093/aesthj/ayp071 British Society of Aesthetics 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics.</p><p>All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oxfordjournals.org</p><p>Why Art Is not a SpandrelStephen Davies</p><p>I one views humans creation and appreciation o art as grounded in our biological nature, it might</p><p>be tempting to see art as a spandrel, as an adventitious by-product o some adaptation without</p><p>adaptive signifcance in itsel. Such a position connects art to our evolved human nature yet</p><p>apparently avoids the demands o demonstrating how art behaviours enhanced the ftness o our</p><p>ancestors in the Upper Paleolithic. In this paper I explore two arguments that count against the view</p><p>that art is a spandrel. The frst rejects the idea that the spandrel option is somehow less demanding</p><p>or controversial than the alternative view according to which art is an adaptation. The second argues</p><p>that i art behaviours came to us as spandrels, they would not remain so; their occurrence in the</p><p>usual manner would become normative because they would come to provide honest signals o</p><p>ftness.</p><p>Suppose one thinks that the creation and appreciation o art is pan-cultural, indeed, thatsuch behaviours are almost universal in humans and emerge spontaneously as part o ournormal development. And suppose one believes, in addition, that this was so rom deepinto our prehistory, and not the result o datable acts o invention, the products and practiceso which were taken up and disseminated. Admittedly, such ideas presuppose a conceptiono art more modest than that invoked under the rubric o Fine Art, but this seems rea-sonable i we see the latter as an lite, arcane institutionalization arising out o but notdisplacing its more quotidian predecessor. Given all this, one will be inclined to viewhumans creation and appreciation o art as grounded in our biological nature, and therebyas shaped by natural selection. According to the standard view, there are then two mainpossibilities: (i) art behaviours are adaptations, which is to say they emerged as transmis-sible1 capacities that increased the ecological tness o those who displayed them, so thattheir possessors parented more extensive and ar-reaching lineages; or (ii) art behaviours</p><p>1 In evolutionary theory, transmissible usually equates to genetically heritable. Alternative views are possible.</p><p>Meme theory allows or cultural transmissionL see S. Blackmore, The Meme Machine (Oxord: OUP, 1999).</p><p>Developmental systems theory suggests that what matters or evolution is the availablility o relevant resources toeach generation, not whether those resources are biological or cultural in origin; see Paul Griths and Russell</p><p>Gray, Developmental Systems and Evolutionary Explanation,Journal o Philosophy, 91 (1994), pp. 277304.</p><p>Multilevel selection theory argues that the units o selection can be groups rather than individuals, which again</p><p>gives a signicant role to social transmission in evolution: see Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd, Not By Genes</p><p>Alone: How Culture Transormed Human Evolution (Chicago: University o Chicago Press, 2005) and David Sloan</p><p>Wilson, Mark Van Vugt, and Rick OGorman, Multilevel Selection Theory and Major Evolutionary Transitions:</p><p>Implications or Psychological Science, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17 (2008), pp. 69. I do not</p><p>consider the debate between such theories here.</p></li><li><p>8/6/2019 Brit J Aesthetics 2010 Davies 333 41</p><p> 2/9</p><p>334 | stephen davies</p><p>are spandrels, that is, adventitious by-products o adaptations, without adaptive signi-cance in themselves.2</p><p>In this paper, I consider the second option. At rst glance it is an attractive hypothesis,in that it connects art to our evolved human nature yet apparently avoids the demands odemonstrating how art behaviours enhanced the tness o our ancestors in the Upper</p><p>Palaeolithic. The point is not merely that the art-as-spandrel position comes cheap, becauseit requires less argument. It is that arguments in avour o the alternative art-as-adaptationhypothesis are inevitably controversial and inconclusive. In considering which currenteatures o human behaviour are outcomes o prehistoric adaptations, evolutionary psy-chologists speculate about challenges aced by our prehistoric ancestors and about howthese could have been answered by the emergence o such behaviours. It is alleged that thissort o reverse engineering results in the production o Just So stories.3</p><p>Despite the initial attractiveness o the art-as-spandrel approach, in this paper I questionits plausibility. Beore I get to that, I indicate how the notion o spandrels is applied in thediscussion o biological evolution and I mention some o the theorists who claim that art,</p><p>or some particular art orm, is an example o a spandrel.</p><p>I</p><p>The term spandrel reers to an architectural eature, namely the tapering triangularspaces ormed by the intersection o two rounded arches at right angles. They are aninstance o an architectural by-product (one among many) that need have no unctional</p><p>2 A third possibility is that art behaviours are vestiges, that is, ormer adaptations that have lost their original adaptive</p><p>unction. Both G. W. F. Hegel and Arthur C. Danto have produced accounts o art according to which contemporaryart is vestige-like. They suggest that art had an historical unction that it has now discharged, so that it persists in a</p><p>post-historical phase. Nearer to the view that art behaviours are vestiges let via biological evolutionin other words,</p><p>that they hang on (and perhaps wither), despite no longer serving their original, adaptive unctionis the position o</p><p>Ellen Dissanayake in What Is Art For? (Seattle: University o Washington Press, 1988). She maintains that post-eighteenth-</p><p>century Fine Art no longer builds community, which is arts evolutionary purpose on her view. In any case, all these</p><p>writers have as their target Western Fine Art. Provided we take the broad view o art that I recommended earlier, one</p><p>including domestic, decorative, olk, and popular art, it is apparent that art is created, valued, and enjoyed with a</p><p>vigour that suggests it has not lost the evolutionary signicance we are supposing it to have had or our ancestors.</p><p>3 S. J. Gould and R. C. Lewontin, in The Spandrels o San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique o the</p><p>Adaptationist Programme, Proceedings o the Royal Society o London, B205 (1979), pp. 581598, criticised the story</p><p>telling o adaptationists. H. D. Schlinger in How the Human Got its Spots: A Critical Analysis o the Just So Storieso Evolutionary Psychology, Skeptic, 4 (1996), pp. 6876, made the comparison with Rudyard Kiplings stories o</p><p>how animals acquired their distinctive characteristics. This style o objection is widely regarded as the most damning</p><p>to the explanations oered by evolutionary psychologists. Reverse engineering can be deended as an acceptable</p><p>orm o abductive reasoning, however: see Harmon R. Holcomb III, Just So Stories and Inerence to the Best</p><p>Explanation in Evolutionary Psychology, Minds and Machines, 6 (1996), pp. 525540. And evolutionary psychologists</p><p>sometimes also employ other methods to validate their hypotheses, such as study o primates, o children, and o</p><p>present-day hunter-gatherers, and research on neural structures and their history (including research on autism and</p><p>selective brain decits).</p></li><li><p>8/6/2019 Brit J Aesthetics 2010 Davies 333 41</p><p> 3/9</p><p>Why art is not a spandrel | 335</p><p>signicance on its own.4 In human terms, the best equivalent probably is the armpit, astructure inevitably ormed where an articulable member joins the bodys trunk. Otherexamples sometimes oered are the navel and male nipples. Applications o the term arenot conned only to structural eatures, however. Both the redness o blood and the white-ness o bone are regarded as spandrels; in these cases they are non-unctional by-products</p><p>o the chemical constitutions respectively o blood and bone. And the notion can beextended to reer to aspects o culture and society. According to Stephen Jay Gould, withonly 10,000 years o history behind them, both writing and reading are spandrels. Indeed,he regards human culture and technology generally as by-products o the oversized human</p><p>brain, which evolved to address now unknown problems aced by our ancestors.5</p><p>Several theorists have suggested that art is a spandrel.6 In The Prehistory o the Mind,Steven Mithen discussed the way human general intelligence was spectacularly enhanced</p><p>by a breaking down o the modularized isolation o mental domains specializing in naturalhistory, social relations, technology, and language.7 His discussion suggests that the appear-ance at the most general level o art, religion, and science some 30,000 years ago was a</p><p>by-product o these cognitive developments. Others make the claim not about art in gen-eral but about particular art orms. Alred Russel Wallace, in Darwinism, regarded musicand dance as by-products o our brain power and excessive vitality.8 According to StevenPinker: [o the arts] music . . . shows the clearest signs o not being [an adaptation]. Hecoins a striking metaphor: I suspect that music is auditory cheesecake, an exquisite con-ection crated to tickle the sensitive spots o at least six o our mental aculties, these</p><p>being language (when the music has lyrics), auditory scene analysis, emotional calls,habitat selection (as expressed in musical tone painting), motor control (when musicleads to dancing), and something else that makes the whole more than the sum o theparts.9 In other words, senses and capacities evolved or non-musical purposes are</p><p>4 The architectural term spandrel was rst applied to biological eatures by Gould and Lewontin in The Spandrels o</p><p>San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm. They characterized spandrels as necessaryby-products o the structures on</p><p>which they are based, but this aspect o the view has been challenged: or example, see Daniel C. Dennett, Darwins</p><p>Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon &amp; Schuster, 1995), pp. 272273 and Alasdair I. Houston, San Marco and</p><p>Evolutionary Biology, Biology and Philosophy, 24 (2009), pp. 215230.</p><p>5 S. J. Gould, Evolution: The Pleasures o Pluralism, New York Review o Books, 44 (26 June 1997), see paragraphs</p><p>4243; see also The Exaptive Excellence o Spandrels as a Term and Prototype, Proceedings o the National Academy o</p><p>Science USA, 94 (1997), pp. 1075010755.</p><p>6 For some recent examples, see Eckart Voland, Aesthetic Preerences in the World o ArtiactsAdaptations or the</p><p>Evaluation o Honest Signals? in E. Voland and K. Grammer (eds), Evolutionary Aesthetics (Berlin: Springer Verlag,2003), pp. 239260; Merlin Donald, Art and Cognitive Evolution, in M. Turner (ed.), The Artul Mind: Science and</p><p>the Riddle o Human Creativity(Oxord: OUP, 2006), pp. 320; Terrence Deacon, The Aesthetic Faculty, in Turner,</p><p>Artul Mind, pp. 2153; Semir Zeki, The Neurology o Ambiguity, in Turner,Artul Mind, pp. 243270.</p><p>7 S. Mithen, The Prehistory o the Mind: A Search or the Origins o Art, Religion, and Science (London: Thames &amp; Hudson,</p><p>1996).</p><p>8 A. R. Wallace, Darwinism (London: Macmillan, 1889).</p><p>9 S. Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997), the quotations are rom pp. 534 and 538. See also</p><p>Ragnar Granit, The Purposive Brain (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977).</p></li><li><p>8/6/2019 Brit J Aesthetics 2010 Davies 333 41</p><p> 4/9</p><p>336 | stephen davies</p><p>stimulated by music in a ashion that we nd enjoyable, though not to any evolutionarypurpose.10</p><p>II</p><p>In this section I oer arguments querying the claim that the art-as-spandrel option is easieror less controversial to support than is the art-as-adaptation alternative.</p><p>I asked, most people would identiy eathers as an adaptation or avian fight. They arewrong to do so. The rst eathers evolved or thermoregulation11 and the descendants osome ancient bird types, such as emus and penguins, have no eathers suitable or fight.Even in fighted birds, the vast majority o their eathers play no role in their taking to thesky. So, is fight a spandrel, is it merely a non-adaptive by-product o avian thermoregula-tion? Obviously not. Although fight comes at a cost (which is why rail species revert sooten to fightlessness on islands without ground predators), it provides a mode o mobilitythat produces many benets toward survival and reproduction. But i it is an adaptation,</p><p>where do we locate that? We do so not in the origins o eathers, but in certain modica-tions to specic eathers that (along with other fight-acilitating changes in bone structure,musculature, and the like) made avian fight possible</p><p>A yet more extreme example helps make the point. The cochlea o the human inner ear,with which dierences in the pitches o sounds are detected, developed rom the lagena, a</p><p>bulging organ on the posterior section o the sacculus o sh that detects aquatic vibrationand thereby locates the presence o other sh.12 But this does not mean that humans pitchdetection, which is important or auditory scene analysis and the appreciation o semanticand aective content in utterance, is merely a spandrel o an ancient piscean adaptation. Inaccounting or the adaptiveness o the human cochlea, we should look not to the origins othe relevant organ but to changes in it that made it useul or (that is, that enhanced thetness o) terrestrial creatures.</p><p>As these examples show, evolution never begins aresh but builds instead on whatalready exists. The result, even i it is adaptive, sometimes exhibits an improvisatory,</p><p>jury-rigged character. Bipedalism was adaptive or our ancestors, but we are also heirto the back problems and pains that go with it. All this helps to explain why so little othe possible design space is exploited by evolution; or instance, it explains why so manyliving creatures display similar basic body plans.</p><p>10 Commentators have been rightly puzzled by Pinkers metaphor; or instance, see Joseph Carroll, Steven Pinkers</p><p>Cheesecake or the Mind, Philosophy and Literature, 22 (1998), pp. 478485. The desire oHomo sapiens or sweet,atty oods was adaptive on the savannahs o the Upper Palaeolithic, when such nourishing oods could be hard to</p><p>come by. Now, when every street corner has a burger outlet and coee store, the taste may have become</p><p>maladaptive. But in neither environment does a desire or sweet, atty ood (or cheesecake) unction as a spandrel.</p><p>For other (not entirely convincing) criticisms o Pinker on music, see Daniel J. Levitin This Is your Brain on Music: The</p><p>Science o Human Obsession (New York: Dutton, 2006).</p><p>11 S. J. Gould and E. Vrba, Exaptation: A Missing Term in the Science o Forms, Paleobiology, 8 (1982), pp. 415.</p><p>12 For discussion, see Charles O. Nussbaum, The Musical Representation: Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion (Cambridge, MA:</p><p>MIT Press, 2007), p. 52.</p></li><li><p>8/6/2019 Brit J Aesthetics 2010 Davies 333 41</p><p> 5/9</p><p>Why art is not a spandrel | 337</p><p>Here is the relevant moral: demonstrating that something is a s...</p></li></ul>