Originally written in response to a writeup by Klash, which raised the following (numbered) 6 points (even further aside, that w/u seems to have been nuked as a result of falling to an abysmally low rep; downvote does not mean "I disagree"):
  1. The feeling I get when I hear music, see art.
  2. How beautiful the brilliant shades of burgundy, orange, and yellow the leaves turn in the fall seem to me.
  3. Romantic love. (horniness seems to be more than enough to ensure procreation)
  4. A person's drive to make a difference, be someone, achieve distinction.
  5. Nuns
  6. Monks

I'm not hostile to the theory, I just find it terribly incomplete. Why would evolution produce any of the above? (The "nuns" and "monks" part was a joke, btw). None are neccesary to, or enhance the chances of survival. Animals feel none of these things (we assume, at least) and yet they survive anyway. From whence do these come?

From here down it's all MY stuff, so blame ME
One should realise that evolution does not explain everything. For instance, you'd be hard-pressed to explain gravity ("why things fall down") as a result of evolution; the is mainly because the two have nothing to do with each other. This does not diminish the scientific status accorded to evolution (or to gravity).

In particular, most of klash's aesthetic feelings don't seem to be too amenable to scientific explanation (and the tone of the writeup doesn't seem to encourage scientific explanation of these. AND THAT'S OK!.).

But I might as well comment about #2: "How beautiful the brilliant shades of burgandy [sic], orange, and yellow the leaves turn in the fall seem to me. ". It seems fairly obvious that given a sense of aesthetics, it will find appealing the natural surroundings. So of course autumn is appealing!

But here's something that actually relates tangentially to adaption: klash's eyes can see what we call "visible light", which includes all those reds and yellows. By an amazing fluke of Nature, those colours are pretty much what the sun produces and the atmosphere allows through. Then again, what senses would you expect to find? Something that can never be useful??

As an even further aside, I'll note that trees are green (rather than far infrared, say) for much the same reason...

  1. Not everything in us need serve a purpose, even with evolution held as part of the picture. That said, novelty (like a book that changes your views of the world, or a beautiful painting) is necessary for us to learn and be able to adapt to our surroundings. On a less deep note, the ability to write good poetry, smear paint in an interesting way, or just plain enjoy it are methods for meeting other people, and therefore raise your chances to get laid.
  2. Novelty and personal bias.
  3. Horniness works if all you want to do is pop the little suckers out, but a couple that stays together gives a better chance of survival to their child. Also, romantic love is a part of mate selection, and so is likely to be passed on.
  4. Mate selection all the way. The more visible you are, the more members of the opposite sex see you, the more chances you have.
  5. Overpopulation control.

Largely bullshit? You bet. But given that evolution suggests that progress happens by accident, my guesses are as good as any you can make up and post with no form of background research whatsoever.

Dialogue: Thanks, and I wasn't suggesting you were. As my current educational task is getting out of high school and I haven't taken any biology for three years, I felt that the disclaimer was necessary.

Evolution is not an exact process. By this I mean that evolution doesn't do things by design, it's inherently random and disorganized. Things don't always have a reason for happening. As well, evolution is a valid theory if you believe that the things we experience are the result of the environment in which we live. A belief in God (or gods, but I'll employ a western religion bias for simplicity) and in evolution can be reconciled if you think of God as the guy who setup the Universe and is watching the it run. You might even choose to believe that God pokes around with the works once in a while, miracles, for example.

If you believe that you are more than the sum of your parts, you probably won't even be able to completely believe in evolution. For someone who thinks that they are more than the sum of their parts, questions about love, beauty, and so on will never be answerable, except through religion or philosophy.

Its pretty difficult to believe that conscience and sentience are the results of some mechanical process. Even if science hasn't even explored the appropriate areas yet, it might be a possibility. Do you think you're entire thought process could ever be described mathematically?

There is good evidence that personality traits and behaviors are evolved. Sort of a social Darwinism, in that traits that help you in society are reinforced, and other, less productive tendencies are suppressed. Everyone has probably experienced this. Think about what you were like a couple of year ago. I bet you've changed right? Probably for the better right?

In this vein, one can discuss romantic love as a something used to create stable families. Love gives children a Mom and a Dad, role models from both sexes (note unfair bias toward traditional family, other models are equally valid), people who will cooperate in order to raise children. This is simply perpetuating the species. I've read somewhere, probably here, that romantic love is a fairly modern notion. In the past, arranged marriages have been used to ensure that good mates for offspring are found. Romantic love has probably mostly replaced this practice, but the results are still the same. Romantic love is used to find and keep suitable mates.

For point four, I'll point out that people with drive and determination contribute to society. These are the people who get things done. Hopefully, they make society better. In the early days of Humankind, these were the people that kept their children fed and safe from danger. These were people that became leaders. In today's society, we have people driven to attain fame, which is probably more of a learned personality trait. Larger than life role models lead people who want to "be like them."

As for the rest, I'm going to chalk that up to the randomness inherent to the evolutionary process, both in biology and in society. Things don't always happen for a reason. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that biological (at least) evolution doesn't really affect middle of the road traits. Its the extremely good or bad things that evolution operates on.

This opens up a huge can of philosophical worms, especially as far as perception and how our brains operate. How do you know that being in love isn't some trick your subconscious is playing on you? Its a good trick though, it helps create stable families. Is your love for someone any less valid if it is a subconscious trick? Nope, because as far as you know, you are in love, and that's all that matters.

You should note that there is a very practical use for a sense of beauty. Not only for mate selection, which has been mentioned, but for determining where to live and if a place is safe. For instance, if you see a whole lot of nothing, as in a desert, you might think that it is very inhospitable to life (human life, at least). Or maybe you see bones or blood, which you would find repulsive, and think to yourself, "Hey, maybe I'm about to be eaten." Whereas the colors of plants, flowers, trees, and water would remind you on the subconcious level that there is water, food, and some sort of shelter nearby, even if you didn't have the ability to figure this out rationally.

As for romantic love, there is a lot of evidence that chemicals called "pheremones" help determine if you are attracted to someone. I don't know much about the subject, but I think of this as being done unconciously, in that we sense these pheremones that generate some funny reaction in us involving sex hormones and adrenelin.

A lot of us have concious or unconcious desire to prove ourselves better than others. This would be analogous to a prehistorical social heirarchy, kinda like what we hear about the social structure of animals that travel in packs like dogs (wolves), cats (lions and tigers), and Windows users.

Updated: Oh right, and about that music thing. Ever notice how children can sleep better when there's soothing music in the background (ie. a mother singing or something cliché like that)? My theory is that there are certain sounds we are "trained" to enjoy: the voices of our family, the sound of rushing water, or something. Apprecation of modern music tends to be a learned trait, rather than something inherent in a person, but I think it developed from this. Also, ever have an experience where a song reminds you of where you were the last time you heard it? That happens to me with the themes of movies, too, but the weirdest thing is that there are certain songs that make me feel like it's a completely different season. That seems to be how our memory works.

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