May 12, 2014
Gordon H. Orians
“We could not understand the environment unless we entered the world already understanding these relationships.” – Immanuel Kant’s conclusion from his Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals is used by Gordon H. Orians to illustrate his own understanding of how our mind responds to the environment. Observing our fascination with natural landscapes, our interest for animals, trees, flowers, sunrises and sunsets, through an evolutionary lens, Prof. Orians argues that the life of our ancestors shaped what we love and what we fear.
Having realised that our interests in human responses to the environment greatly overlap, prof. Orians and I started a discussion via e-mail. Here are some of his reflexions on the topic, which is explained in detail in his book Snakes, Sunrises and Shakespeare – How Evolution Shapes our Loves and Fears.
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February 7, 2012
Interesting fact No.1: Genome-wise, modern humans are very closely related. Any two modern humans, from anywhere on the globe, possess greater genetic similarity than do any two chimpanzees; even those selected from neighbouring groups in Africa (Davies, 2001; Ridley, 2000; Wells, 2002; according to Falk and Balling 2010).
African savanna during an unusually wet period; photo by Martin_Heigan
Interesting fact No.2: A broad survey of art preferences (Wypijewski 1997, according to Dutton, 2003) of people living in ten countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas found “an odd cross-cultural uniformity” – respondents in all countries expressed a liking for realistic representative paintings including water, trees and other plants, human beings, and animals, especially large mammals. Two artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, who hired professionals to conduct this survey in the first place, produced a favourite painting for each country using the statistical preferences as a guide. The paintings turned out to be very similar — they all looked like ordinary European landscape calendar art. An influential art critic Arthur Danto claimed that this findings demonstrate the power of the international calendar industry to influence taste away from indigenous values and towards European conventions. Was Danto right?
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