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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April 22, 2014
Many people seek to understand the human connection to nature, wondering about our place in the world, and intuitively sense that it cannot be fully explained within the limited frame of individual experience. They often look for insight by trying to understand the life our distant ancestors experienced, prior to civilization. I’ve noticed that the “savanna hypothesis” is one of the most common search terms that brings readers to my blog.
An evolutionary perspective on our relations with the environment might be the most profound, and perhaps the most useful when it comes to analyzing our emotional reactions to it. It goes beyond our immediate response to our surroundings, and focuses on how one particular type of environment in East Africa shaped many of our psychological processes. It addresses mechanisms that we’re not consciously aware of, though we experience their end results. We sometimes take these for granted — thinking, for example, that it is accepted knowledge that snakes are scary, and that’s just the way it is — while at other times the power of those evolutionary influences amazes us — how can sunsets be so compelling, though they are a common phenomenon in our lives?
A growing body of research in the field of evolutionary psychology has enabled scientists to offer many fascinating hypotheses regarding the relationship of evolution, environment and our behaviour. Gordon H. Orians, a biologist and the author of the savanna hypothesis, brings together theory and research in his new book Snakes, Sunrises and Shakespeare. He discusses how evolution shaped what we like and what we fear in the world around us.
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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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