December 12, 2020

1. The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) is a charming, entertaining movie, a good summary of the long novel by Dumas père. The plot is intricate, but easy to follow. The story reminded me of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables — an innocent man is sentenced to a long prison term, finally gets out of prison, hungers for revenge...

Like Dickens, Dumas père was enormously popular in his time. In the early 1800s, novel-reading was becoming a pastime for the growing middle class; Dickens and Dumas rode this wave. But while Dickens is still regarded as a first-rate writer, Dumas is regarded as merely entertaining.

Dumas père was born in 1802, ten years before Dickens. One of Dumas’ four grandparents was of African descent. When someone chided him about his ancestry, he said, “My father was a mulatto, my grandmother was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.”

Dumas led a wild life, a life that reminds one of his novels. He traveled widely, participated in revolutions, and had numerous children by numerous women. One of his sons, known as “Dumas fils,” became a prominent writer, best known for the novel (and later play) La Dame aux Camélias.

In an earlier issue, I mentioned a strange coincidence, an occult connection, between Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo and a movie called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

2. Homeland

The Showtime series Homeland has all the vices of today’s TV. The plot pulls you in, but the characters aren’t really believable or interesting. It’s entertaining and exciting, but it has no moral center, no theme or idea — excitement for the sake of excitement. The plot has so many twists that you can’t stop watching, but you wish you’d never started watching. It’s hollow, meaningless, artificial, but it’s hard to stop watching, as it’s hard to stop eating candy.

Homeland is based on an Israeli series that was popular in Israel, and was adapted for Russian, Indian, and American TV.

3. Conspiracy Theories

Imagine I was writing on the day after Lincoln was shot, and I wrote, “Lincoln was apparently shot by John Wilkes Booth. Booth probably hatched his plot in conversations with David Herold and others, and Booth was provided with a horse by James Pumphrey.”

Is this a conspiracy theory? Yes, but it’s also true. Too often “conspiracy theory” is used as a synonym for “false theory.” There are true conspiracy theories as well as false ones. Every theory, including every conspiracy theory, needs to be examined on its merits, but we’ve gotten into the habit of quickly dismissing many theories, especially those whose conclusions we don’t like, as “conspiracy theories.”

4. Evolution

A. Lamarck vs. Darwin

I read somewhere that Jews who immigrated to the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen and Oman) became dark-skinned after two or three generations. If this is true, it might be a clue as to how the various races of man were formed.

How can skin color be changed, and how can this change be passed on to the next generation? Darwin’s mechanism, mutation and selection, seems unable to explain this (dark skin would only be a slight survival advantage, so it wouldn’t become widespread for countless generations). Perhaps Lamarck’s mechanism, the inheritance of acquired characteristics, is a better explanation.

Likewise, Lamarck’s mechanism seems better able to explain our psychological inheritance. We inherit from our ancestors images that Jung called the collective unconscious. For example, we inherit the owl image as a symbol of wisdom. The collective unconscious must have been acquired over the course of human history, so it’s an example of Lamarck’s inheritance of the acquired.

Lamarck’s mechanism is also the best explanation of behavioral changes. Many naturalists have noticed that birds, if they have little experience of man, don’t fear man, and can be caught by hand, or killed with a stick.1 After they’ve been hunted by man for a few generations, they not only acquire a fear of man, they also pass that fear to their offspring — fear of man becomes a hereditary trait, an example of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

* * * * *

What’s true of birds is also true of other animals. Bighorn sheep, for example, aren’t afraid of man until they’ve been hunted.

In the retired parts of the mountains [Lyell writes], where the hunters had seldom penetrated, there is no difficulty in approaching the Rocky Mountain sheep, which there exhibit the simplicity of character so remarkable in the domestic species; but where they have been often fired at, they are exceedingly wild, alarm their companions, on the approach of danger, by a hissing noise, and scale the rocks with a speed and agility that baffles pursuit.2

Lyell concludes, “As man, in diffusing himself over the globe, has tamed many wild races, so also he has made many tame races wild.”

B. Domesticating Animals

Certain animals — like the horse, cow, and dog — are docile and easily trained. This is probably because, in a wild state, these animals follow a leader, an alpha male who leads the pack/herd. When these animals were brought into human society, they treated man as the pack leader, and followed man as obediently as they followed their pack leader in the wild. (One of the most docile and intelligent animals, according to Lyell, is the elephant.) So Lyell’s rule of thumb is, “Herd animals can be domesticated, solitary animals can’t be.”

Some animals only obey man grudgingly. Lyell mentions the orangutan of Borneo, who has been taught by the natives “to climb lofty trees, and to bring down the fruit. But he is said to yield to his masters an unwilling obedience, and to be held in subjection only by severe discipline.”

Lyell mentions a Sumatran ape that’s more docile. The natives have taught this ape to “ascend trees for the purpose of gathering coconuts, a service in which the animal is very expert. He selects... the ripe nuts with great judgment, and pulls no more than he is ordered.”

In South America, monkeys are taught to climb trees and throw down fruit. Whether they do it grudgingly or with a smile, Lyell doesn’t say.

C. Lyell vs. Lamarck

One of Lyell’s aims is to criticize Lamarck’s theory of evolution. When Lyell was writing, Lamarck was the leading champion of evolution (Darwin was still in college). After describing the orangutan of Borneo, Lyell says,

We leave it to the Lamarckians to explain, how it happens that those same savages of Borneo [who trained the orangutan] have not themselves acquired, by dint of longing for many generations for the power of climbing trees, the elongated arms of the orang, or even the prehensile tails of some American monkeys.

Lyell mocks Lamarck because Lyell doesn’t believe that species evolve. Or rather, he doesn’t believe that evolution is limitless, he believes that evolution only takes place within narrow limits. A baboon can be taught to count to ten, but he can never be taught calculus. A husky will lose some fur if he’s brought to the tropics, but he’ll never acquire the power of flight.

In Lyell’s view, species are permanent and unchanging. “Species have a real existence in nature,” Lyell writes, “[and] each was endowed, at the time of its creation, with the attributes and organization by which it is now distinguished.”3 Lyell notes that animals of different species rarely breed with each other, and when they do, they rarely produce fertile offspring. (The various races of man aren’t separate species, as is evident from the fact they can breed with each other, and produce fertile offspring.)

Lyell was aware that the mammal embryo develops through earlier stages of life:

The brain of the foetus, in the highest class of vertebrated animals, assumes, in succession, the various forms which belong to fishes, reptiles, and birds, before it acquires those additions and modifications which are peculiar to the mammiferous tribe.

But Lyell wouldn’t admit that these facts suggested a long process of evolution, suggested that man had evolved through fish, reptiles, etc. He interpreted all facts as evidence of static species.

In Lyell’s day, scientists had recently become aware of the diversity of life in far-flung corners of the world. They were surprised to find that every region had unique organisms. For example, an isolated island like Saint Helena had many plants and animals that were found nowhere else; Lyell said that Saint Helena had 61 plant species, and all but 2 or 3 were unique to that island. If God had created each species, why didn’t He spread each species throughout the world, or at least throughout regions with a similar climate? Why would He make special organisms for Saint Helena? For an objective observer, diversity may well have been an argument for evolution, but Lyell wasn’t objective, he was a partisan, he opposed evolution, so he refused to view diversity as an argument for evolution.3B

Lyell was keenly interested in the findings of the scientists who accompanied Napoleon’s Egypt expedition. He was especially interested in the animal mummies, which formed “cabinets of zoology almost complete.” These mummified animals were identical with today’s animals, so Lyell pointed to them as evidence that species were unchanging. Lyell writes,

Such was the conformity of the [mummified animals] to those now living, that there was no more difference... between them than between the human mummies and the embalmed bodies of men of the present day.... The cat, for example, has been carried over the whole earth, and, within the last three centuries, has been naturalized in every part of the new world, from the cold regions of Canada to the tropical plains of Guiana; yet it has scarcely undergone any perceptible mutation, and is still the same animal which was held sacred by the Egyptians.

Lyell seems to think that, if evolution occurs, it should occur in hundreds of years, or thousands of years. He’s too impatient, evolution doesn’t happen that quickly. It’s surprising that Lyell didn’t view evolution from the “Deep Time viewpoint,” since he applied that viewpoint to the development of the earth; one might even say that Lyell was the father of Deep Time. Why couldn’t he see that evolution occurred in Deep Time, occurred over millions of years, not hundreds or thousands?

Lyell can’t shake off a religious view of the world, he can’t free himself from the idea that God created each species for a purpose. He says,

The power bestowed on the horse, the dog, the ox, the sheep, the cat, and many species of domestic fowls, of supporting almost every climate, was given expressly to enable them to follow man throughout all parts of the globe — in order that we might obtain their services, and they our protection.

The whole of nature, according to Lyell, was “prospectively calculated and adjusted” by the omniscient being who created the world. Hence everything fits together.

The various species [Lyell writes] of contemporary plants and animals have obviously their relative forces nicely balanced, and their respective tastes, passions, and instincts, so contrived, that they are all in perfect harmony with each other.4

It’s astonishing that such a deep and clear thinker could subscribe to such a wild idea. Later in his life, however, Lyell realized that the champions of evolution were right, and he’d been wrong. Religious preconceptions die slowly.

5. The Wood Wide Web

It’s well known that animals aren’t entirely selfish, animals sometimes sacrifice themselves for their offspring, their herd, their hive. Social animals like ants and bees seem to have little regard for themselves, complete devotion to the community. It can be argued that animals are altruistic because they’re programmed to pass their genes to the next generation, and since they share many of their genes with their family/community, they seek the well-being of their family/community. Or it could be argued that animals have a life-instinct that impels them to promote not only themselves, but their family, their hive, their species.

I found an interesting article about trees in the New York Times. The author, Ferris Jabr, is a rising star in the field of science writing. Jabr argues that trees communicate with each other through an underground network of fungi; he argues that trees share resources with each other. According to Jabr, the altruism of trees goes beyond their own species. The article ends thus: “There are no individuals. There aren’t even separate species. Everything in the forest is the forest.”

Jabr notes that this holistic view of forests is akin to the holistic thinking of native peoples. He quotes a Native American: “Everything is connected, absolutely everything. There are many aboriginal groups that will tell you stories about how all the species in the forests are connected, and many will talk about below-ground networks.” Science is confirming the worldview of primitive man, confirming the view that everything is connected.

Plants and fungi have been cooperating since before animals even existed. Plants are adept at drawing energy from the sun, fungi are adept at drawing energy from the earth. So they cooperate with each other, trade with each other, like a butcher and a baker. Their underground network is called Mycorrhiza, from the Greek words mykes (fungus) and rhiza (root).

Five hundred million years ago [Jabr writes], as both plants and fungi continued oozing out of the sea and onto land, they encountered wide expanses of barren rock and impoverished soil. Plants could spin sunlight into sugar for energy, but they had trouble extracting mineral nutrients from the earth. Fungi were in the opposite predicament. Had they remained separate, their early attempts at colonization might have faltered or failed. Instead, these two castaways — members of entirely different kingdoms of life — formed an intimate partnership. Together they spread across the continents, transformed rock into rich soil and filled the atmosphere with oxygen.

Trees communicate through a fungal network as people communicate through the Internet. The fungal network is sometimes called “The Wood Wide Web.” A tree isn’t independent, it’s part of a web of organisms.

We, too, are part of a web of organisms; we have countless micro-organisms in our bodies. “Diverse microbial communities inhabit our bodies,” Jabr writes, “modulating our immune systems and helping us digest certain foods.... From its skin, fur or bark right down to its genome, any multicellular creature is an amalgam of other life-forms.” Nothing is separate and independent, everything is inter-connected.

How can scientists prove that trees communicate and share resources? What was the Rosetta Stone that allowed us to understand tree communication? Scientists infused trees with special kinds of carbon (special isotopes of carbon), then checked if those carbon atoms showed up in neighboring trees.

They found that fir trees and birch trees were cooperating: in the winter, when birch trees had lost their leaves, energy passed from fir to birch; in the summer, energy passed in the opposite direction. When a tree was about to die, “it sometimes bequeaths a substantial share of its carbon to its neighbors,” like a person making a will. Once the “carbon connection” was discovered, researchers looked at nitrogen, water, phosphorous, etc. and found that all sorts of things were being exchanged between trees, using the fungal network.

This new research has practical implications. If trees help each other, then perhaps loggers shouldn’t clear-cut forests. Jabr discusses the Mother Tree Project, which compares “traditional clear-cuts with harvested areas that preserve varying ratios of veteran trees.” The veteran trees can help seedlings, and make the next generation healthier. So it may be in the interests of loggers to leave behind some big, old “Mother Trees,” instead of clear-cutting.

While researching his article, Jabr accompanied an ecologist named Suzanne Simard. Jabr says that Simard’s book Finding the Mother Tree will be published in 2021. Click here for a TED Talk by Simard.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that different species cooperate. After all, species don’t have hard-and-fast boundaries, species change and evolve. It can be argued that a species is a mental construct, a human invention, like a constellation.5

If we set aside the concept of a species, can we argue that all life forms cooperate with all other life forms? Or should we go even further, should we argue that there’s no hard-and-fast boundary between the living and the non-living, and everything in the universe works together, like a giant organism? Should we view the whole universe as one organism? Is this how primitive man viewed the universe?

Jabr notes that there’s competition in a forest, as well as cooperation. Some scientists argue that

plants and symbiotic fungi reward and punish each other with what are essentially trade deals and embargoes, and that [fungal] networks can increase conflict among plants. In some experiments, fungi have withheld nutrients from stingy plants and strategically diverted phosphorous to resource-poor areas where they can demand high fees from desperate plants.

Just as there are herd animals and solitary animals, so too there are social trees and unsocial trees. Simard says that, while the fir and the beech were chatting back and forth, the cedar stood silent and aloof.

Though trees help trees that aren’t related to them, even trees of different species, they’re particularly helpful to their own offspring, passing them extra nutrients, and making room for their roots to develop — assuming, of course, that the offspring is growing near the parent. This special support for one’s own offspring is similar to the way animals behave, and the way people behave.6

And the offspring may care for the “mother tree” in her old age. Old stumps are kept alive by younger neighbors, who pass them nutrients. We think of a stump as dead, but actually there’s life in a stump — in its roots, its bark, etc.

Eight years ago, I mentioned an Israeli study about pea plants that communicated. I also discussed a book called The Secret Life of Plants; it was published in 1973, and became popular with NewAge types, less popular with HardScience types.7 And then there’s The Hidden Life of Trees, by German forester Peter Wohlleben; Wohlleben’s book, published in 2015, is probably less mystical than The Secret Life of Plants, but mystical enough to arouse the ire of HardScience types. The documentary Intelligent Trees features Wohlleben and Simard.

Because trees are connected, they can only be understood in their natural environment, in their connectedness, not in a laboratory. Goethe understood this, Goethe would be fascinated by the work of Simard and Wohlleben. In an earlier issue, I said that Goethe was skeptical of laboratories, he complained that modern science too often “puts nature on the rack.” Goethe was a “plant philosopher,” or perhaps I should say, “nature philosopher.”

There’s strong evidence of telepathic communication among people, among animals, and even (as we see in quantum physics) among subatomic particles. It stands to reason, therefore, that there’s telepathic communication among plants.

What about between plants and people? Can plants and people communicate? In earlier issues, I’ve argued that people can influence machines through telepathy.8 If that’s true, then it’s likely that people can influence plants through telepathy. After all, it must be easier for a person to have a rapport with a plant than with a toaster or a clock.

Jabr must steer clear of this subject, he can’t discuss telepathy and hope to keep his job. He must dismiss this topic as “pseudoscientific.”

6. Beauty and Evolution

We can conclude from our tree discussion that trees are more intelligent, more cooperative, than they’re thought to be. Trees have soul, they aren’t merely machines, following chemical formulas, and blindly passing on their genes. A narrow, reductivist Darwinism can’t understand trees.

We reach the same conclusion when we look at beauty in the animal world — for example, when we look at the colorful plumage of birds. Ferris Jabr discusses animal beauty in an article called “How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution.”

Darwin said that beauty evolved through “sexual selection,” sometimes called “reproductive selection.” A more striking and colorful male would attract more females, and would be more likely to pass on his genes. Jabr writes,

Females choose the most appealing males “according to their standard of beauty”.... Animals, [Darwin] believed, could appreciate beauty for its own sake.... “A great number of male animals,” Darwin wrote, “as all our most gorgeous birds, some fishes, reptiles and mammals, and a host of magnificently colored butterflies have been rendered beautiful for beauty’s sake.”

In my view, Darwin’s argument implies that animals have soul, animals can appreciate beauty.8B Scientists have long been uncomfortable with Darwin’s argument. They’ve tried to make sexual selection a subset of natural selection, they’ve tried to view beauty as a sign of health, strength, etc. Alfred Russel Wallace

was particularly tormented by Darwin’s suggestion of beauty without utility. “The only way in which we can account for the observed facts is by the supposition that color and ornament are strictly correlated with health, vigor and general fitness to survive,” Wallace wrote.

But many “beauty traits” make the animal less vigorous, less ready for the survival contest. Consider, for example, a bird called the club-winged manakin. While most birds have “light, hollow bones” to facilitate flying, this bird has solid bones to facilitate its mating dance. As a result, it’s heavier, and it flies awkwardly; even the females of this species fly awkwardly, though they don’t do the mating dance. So the desire to perform, to make an impression, has made this bird less capable, more “decadent.”

Darwin’s view that animals can appreciate beauty has long been ridiculed, but in recent years, some scientists have become more sympathetic to Darwin’s view. One of these scientists is Richard Prum, a Yale professor and the author of The Evolution of Beauty. Jabr’s article on animal beauty discusses Prum’s work.

Hooded Warbler
Jabr describes seeing a Hooded Warbler
while walking with Prum
in Hammonasset Beach State Park in Connecticut

Nietzsche said that, among people, the struggle for pleasure is the struggle for life.9 Without pleasure, we wouldn’t want to live, so pleasure is almost as important for life as oxygen. Darwin made the same argument for animals:

Pain or suffering of any kind, if long continued, causes depression and lessens the power of action.... If all the individuals of any species were habitually to suffer to an extreme degree they would neglect to propagate their kind; but we have no reason to believe that this has ever or at least often occurred.10

If animals appreciate beauty, the question arises, Do animals get pleasure from beauty? Does beauty strengthen their desire to live, as it sometimes does for a person? If we push the argument to an extreme, can we say that animals live for beauty?

As a young scientist,
Prum studied Manakins in Ecuador and Suriname

If birds appreciate the beauty of color/appearance, do they also appreciate the beauty of bird song? In other words, do birds appreciate music as well as visual art? (Jabr says that, when Prum was about ten, he became an avid birder and “wore the grooves off two records of bird calls.”)

A skeptic might say, “Plants can’t appreciate beauty, but they’re beautiful nonetheless. Perhaps animals are as blind to beauty as plants are.” But plant beauty has developed to impress animals, get the attention of animals, and thereby encourage pollinating, etc. So plant beauty might support the thesis that animals appreciate beauty. Plants are like a composer who has lost his hearing, and can’t enjoy his own music, but he composes for his audience.

Let’s assume that a female cardinal appreciates the beauty of the male cardinal — his bright red plumage. How did that red evolve? Did the male don his red garb, and then the female fell for it? Or did the female’s aesthetic taste come first, and the male tried to satisfy her taste? It was probably a two-way street, a co-evolution. Prum speaks of, “co-evolution of the work and its appreciation.”11 The audience influences the artist, the artist influences the audience. An original artist must create, not only his work, but a taste for his work, he must create his audience.12

But how did the first red feather come to be? Was it a random mutation, or a willed mutation? Is evolution a creative process, or the result of blind chance? In a recent issue, I compared evolution to the writing of a poem, and I said, “Nature has a creativity that reminds us of an artist or an athlete, an unconscious creativity.” The beautiful plumage of a bird isn’t the result of blind chance, random mutation, it’s the result of some sort of will/urge/synchronicity.13 First the bird appreciates beauty, then he wills beauty, then he creates beauty. An animal creates beauty by the same process, the same magic, that it creates speed, strength, and other qualities.

Articles by Ferris Jabr:

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1. Darwin was struck by the tameness of the birds on the Galapagos. They “often approached sufficiently near to be killed with a switch, and sometimes, as I myself tried, with a cap or hat. A gun is here almost superfluous; for with the muzzle I pushed a hawk off the branch of a tree. One day, whilst lying down, a mocking-thrush alighted on the edge of a pitcher, made of the shell of a tortoise, which I held in my hand, and began very quietly to sip the water; it allowed me to lift it from the ground whilst seated on the vessel.” Darwin says that “there is no way of accounting for [the fear of man], except as an inherited habit: comparatively few young birds, in any one year, have been injured by man in England, yet almost all, even nestlings, are afraid of him.”(The Voyage of the Beagle, Ch. 17)

Thoreau noticed the tameness of birds in the Maine wilderness: “Some dark reddish birds... hopped within six or eight feet of us.... The few small birds found in the wilderness are on more familiar terms with the lumberman and hunter than those of the orchard and clearing with the farmer. I have since found the Canada jay, and partridges, both the black and the common, equally tame [in the Maine wilderness], as if they had not yet learned to mistrust man entirely.”(The Maine Woods, “Chesuncook,” link) back

2. Lyell is quoting John Richardson. See Lyell’s Principles of Geology, Vol. 2, Ch. 3. back
3. Principles of Geology, Vol. 2, Ch. 4 back
3B. In 1798, when Europeans first saw a platypus specimen, they couldn’t believe it was real, they thought it had been stitched together by a taxidermist; they cut the skin to find the stitches.

An island like Saint Helena always has some species that arrived from distant shores. Scientists tried to explain how species traveled. Lyell writes, “The seeds of some aquatic fresh-water plants are of the form of shells, or small canoes, and on this account they swim on the surface, and are carried along by the wind and stream. Others are furnished with fibers, which serve the purpose of masts and sails, so that they are impelled along by the winds.” In short, seeds travel the same way people travel!

Not only did isolated islands have their own organisms, but also different regions on a large continent. Lyell says, “There is found one assemblage of species in China, another in the countries bordering the Black Sea and the Caspian, a third in those surrounding the Mediterranean, a fourth in the great platforms of Siberia and Tartary, and so forth.”

Perhaps the locus classicus of diversity was Australia. Lyell says that, of the 4,100 plant species in Australia, only 166 were found in Europe, and some of these may have been brought by man.

Lyell’s generation was inclined to smile at the simplicity of their grandparents, who were aware of only European species, and didn’t grasp the diversity of organisms. Lyell speaks of, “the comparatively small number of plants known to Linnaeus.” Linnaeus was born in 1707, Lyell in 1797.

Lyell thinks that the whole human race is descended from “a single pair,” or “one common stock.” But he has no idea where man arose, or when. Lyell says that Egyptian history goes back to 3,640 BC. And the Egyptians must have existed “at least for five centuries” before reaching the level of civilization that they had reached in 3,640 BC.

But we must allow “a much greater lapse of time... for the slow and gradual formation of races.” Races had already formed at the time of the pharaohs; on the walls of Egyptian temples, Lyell says, “we behold the Negro and Caucasian physiognomies portrayed as faithfully and in as strong contrast as if the likenesses of those races had been taken yesterday.” So if someone told Lyell that the human race developed in Africa about 50,000 years ago, and then spread around the world and was subdivided into races, he probably wouldn’t be surprised. back

4. Lyell, Principles of Geology, Vol. 2, Ch. 3 back
5. Some ecologists seem to think that trees favor members of their own species. In the documentary Intelligent Trees, Peter Wohlleben says, “Trees of one species are not competitors. On the contrary, they actually support each other almost unconditionally.”(minute 9:40 of documentary) back
6. See the TED Talk by Suzanne Simard, at 11:47.

Thoreau noticed that mature pine trees nurse oak seedlings. He says that the English have

rediscovered the value of pines as nurses for oaks.... At first some oaks had been planted by themselves, and others mixed with Scotch pines; “but in all cases where oaks were planted actually among the pines, and surrounded by them, [though the soil might be inferior,] the oaks were found to be much the best.” --The Succession of Forest Trees
7. Jabr writes, “In a 1973 book titled The Secret Life of Plants, the journalists Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird claimed that plants had souls, emotions and musical preferences, that they felt pain and psychically absorbed the thoughts of other creatures and that they could track the movement of the planets and predict earthquakes.” back
8. See, 2013-02b.htm, and 2019-02.htm#2 back
8B. In an earlier issue, I discussed a documentary called The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. It’s about a man who became friends with a flock of parrots in San Francisco. If birds can establish a rapport with a person, perhaps they can appreciate beauty, too.

If you’re interested in Darwin’s thoughts on sexual selection, see his book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. back

9. Nietzsche wrote, “No life without pleasure; the struggle for pleasure is the struggle for life.”(Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits, #104) back
10. Darwin, Autobiography back
11. Wikipedia, quoting David Rothenberg’s Survival of the Beautiful.

Some people might say, “I might be able to accept your argument as it relates to birds. Birds might have emotion and intelligence, they might be able to bond with people, so I might be able to believe that they appreciate beauty. But what about other types of animals — fish and butterflies, for example? How can I possibly believe that they appreciate beauty?”

Perhaps these other animals have more intelligence than we think. After all, subatomic particles are far more “aware” than we would have thought, and they’re just inanimate matter. And perhaps the appreciation of beauty is more fundamental, more universal than we thought. Finally, we shouldn’t reject this theory unless we have a better theory.

This theory has the advantage of simplicity, insofar as it’s not a “special theory,” it’s the same theory that we used to explain the evolution of speed, strength, and other “survival features.” So we have one “master theory,” and that theory explains the evolution of survival features and beauty features; it also explains the origin of life. That theory emphasizes will, synchronicity, “smart matter,” rather than blind chance. back

12. In an earlier issue, I discussed a rock star named Kenna. “When Kenna was getting started, his music was popular with people in the music industry, but the general public didn’t like his music.... How can people be taught to like something that seems strange at first? Coleridge said that radically new poetry ‘must create the taste whereby it is appreciated.’” back
13. Does Prum understand this? Or does he cling to the random-mutation theory? Prum says, “Animals are agents in their own evolution.... Birds are beautiful because they are beautiful to themselves.” When he speaks of agency, Prum probably means choosing the beautiful male, he probably doesn’t understand how agency/will could actually create beauty. back