Art has always been a puzzle for evolutionists. Michelangelo's David seems singularly resistant to the universal acid of Darwinism, which is otherwise so efficient at dissolving the cultural into the biological. Like any nouveau-riche connoisseur, we are both proud of our art and ashamed of our ancestry, and the two seem impossible to reconcile.
The evolution of art is hard to explain through survival selection, but is a pretty easy target for sexual selection. The production of useless ornamentation that looks mysteriously aesthetic is just what sexual selection is good at. Artistic ornamentation beyond the body is a natural extension of the penises, beards, breasts, and buttocks that adorn the body itself. We shall begin our tour of the human mind with a look at our artistic instincts for producing and appreciating aesthetic ornamentation that is made by the hands rather than grown on the body.
Our shift of art makes a turning point in this book. So far we have been considering generalities: sexual selection theory in general, and how sexual selection shaped the human mind and body in general. It is time to turn to specific mental adaptations to see whether the sexual choice theory can explain particular aspects of human psychology. The rest of this book is devoted to four human capacities: art, morality, language, and creativity. They will serve as case studies. Each has proven difficult to account for as a survival adaptation. We might make more progress by asking whether each may have evolved originally as a courtship adaptation. Of course, in modern life none are used exclusively for courtship, but they still show enough hallmarks of sexual selection for us to be able to trace their origin to the sexual choices made by our ancestors.
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