"The peacock's tail," said Charles Darwin, "makes me sick." That's because the theory of evolution as adaptation can't explain why nature is so beautiful. It took the concept of sexual selection for Darwin to explain that, a process that has more to do with aesthetics than the practical. Survival of the Beautiful is a revolutionary new examination of the interplay of beauty, art, and culture in evolution. Taking inspiration from Darwin's observation that animals have a natural aesthetic sense, philosopher and musician David Rothenberg probes why animals, humans included, have innate appreciation for beauty-and why nature is, indeed, beautiful.
Sexual selection may explain why animals desire, but it says very little about what they desire. Why will a bowerbird literally murder another bird to decorate its bower with the victim's blue feathers? Why do butterfly wings boast such brilliantly varied patterns? The beauty of nature is not arbitrary, even if random mutation has played a role in evolution. What can we learn from the amazing range of animal aesthetic behavior-about animals, and about ourselves?
Readers who enjoyed the bestsellers The Art Instinct and The Mind's Eye will find Survival of the Beautiful an equally stimulating and profound exploration of art, science, and the creative impulse.
"A searching, accessible, and often ecstatic book."—Wall Street Journal "The colour blue rules for the male satin bowerbird of Australia. The interior decorators of the avian world, they gather plastic, shells and feathers of that hue to adorn their meticulously built stick structures, all to lure a potential mate. This is just one indication, argues philosopher and musician David Rothenberg, that beauty is not random but is intrinsic to life—and that evolution proceeds by sumptuousness, not by utility alone. Rothenberg covers topics such as camouflage, abstraction, the profound impact of art on science and much more to explore his theme."—Nature "A door-opener to new ideas and connective tissue in the skeleton of science, particularly biology and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Chances are good you’ll find Mr. Rothenberg’s ‘mad quest for some evidence of aesthetic ideas in the very way nature is put together’ to be persuasive."—New York Journal of Books "Rothenberg is a learned and thoughtful guide across the realms of science and art."—Washington Independent Review of Books "[Rothenberg] seems uniquely qualified to be herald and interlocutor for the present convergence of biology and art."—Chronogram magazine "I have been waiting for a long time for a book like Survival of the Beautiful that suffers not a jot of art’s inferiority complex in the age of science … It’s one terrific romp through the ineffable and embracing glory of the aesthetic experience."—Alison Hawthorne Deming, Orion "This is the triumphant lesson of Survival of the Beautiful: nature is not entirely red in tooth and claw, it also allows the beautiful right of passage."—Peter Forbes, The Guardian (UK) "Rothenberg’s passionate optimism – a belief in the beauty of nature, and vice versa—together with his elegant prose turns Survival of the Beautiful into an exhilarating and thought-provoking trip.—Philip Hoare, The Telegraph (UK) "Survival of the Beautiful is a wild ride. At its heart is a wonderful wish: to make us see the stories and the beauty in everything from the warbles of flying cranes to the cries of crows, From the shape-shifting squid to the bower-building bird, to the elephant and to the cryptic moth, which hides beneath his drab wing-tops a flash of crimson red."—William Bryant Logan, Toronto Globe and Mail
David Rothenberg is Professor of Philosophy and Music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the author of books including Thousand Mile Song and Why Birds Sing. His articles have appeared in Parabola, The Nation, Wired, Dwell, and Sierra.