Monday, December 12, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Got There First

Barbara King could have saved a lot of time in reviewing Michael C. Corballis's The Recursive Mind if she had read my dissertation. Corballis could have saved himself the embarrassment of her review if he had read it. I already discussed in it the presence of recursion in any species that hunts.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Article on E. O. Wilson

Good new article in The Atlantic on E. O. Wilson, who has a new, sure to be controversial, book coming out.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rhythm and Memory

In my dissertation I argued that the best way for people to learn is for them to have a rhythmic education. It turns out that I was right. In other words, regular rhythmic verse aids in memory. This is important in helping us to understand both the origins of rhythmic poetry, and the reason we continue to be attracted to it (unless one is a postmodernist professor of English, in which case it's not fashionable to like it). If we want students to learn their lessons easily, the textbooks should be in something like blank verse. It doesn't even have to be so obvious -- iambic lines will do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Review of Three Literary Darwinist Books

Here is a review of three literary Darwinists -- Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories, Jonathan Gottschall, The Rape of Troy, and Clinton Machann, Masculinity in Four Victorian Epics -- and a challenge to the rest of us. The reviewer criticizes Gotschall for, essentially, not doing literary theory in a more traditional way. Well, isn't that Gotschall's point? How he does it and what he does is his unique contribution to the field. I find it interesting that they are all on epics. Also, I have in my possession Frederick Turner's latest and yet to be published work, Epic. Is there a changing paradigm afoot?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Literature and the Psychology Lab

Gregory Currie has an interesting article titled Literature and the Psychology Lab. This is, of course, where the real bridge between the humanities and the sciences is built.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hard-Wired Envy

Bryan Caplan, an economist, shows he really understands the true relationship between biology and society in his short piece on envy. Yes, things like envy are hard-wired into us. But then, so is xenophobia, sexism, and many other behaviors. Does this mean we will never get rid of them? Probably. Does this mean we cannot change them in ourselves and others, through culture and social pressures, including education? Absolutely not. We are also hardwired for many virtues as well. Which we choose to emphasize us up to us.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Note on the Adaptive Function of Literature

I am reading The Art of Immersion by Frank Rose, which talks about some of the new ways stories are told with the internet and games. They talk about how much of the theory behind how the world wide web works -- using links - comes from Vannevar Bush's idea of the brain being associative and, thus, it would be better to organize information in such a way, using what became known as hyperlinks. It is suggested by Rose that stories can and should make use of the inherent nonlinearity behind this idea.

However, from an evolutionary perspective, there is another interesting point made:

Steven Pinker once described fiction as "a kind of thought experiment" in which characters "play out plausible interactions in a . . . virtual world, and an audience can take mental notes of the results." While perhaps not the most poetic assessment of literature ever penned, this view does seem to be borne out by recent experiments in neuroscience.

In a paper published in 2009, for example, four researchers at Washington University in St. Louis conducted functional MRI scans of 28 people as they were reading a series of stories. The narratives were all taken from One Boy's Day, a 1951 book about the life of a seven-year-old schoolkid named Raymond. The experiment demonstrated a close correlation between the actions described in a story and the parts of the brain that process those actions when a person actually performs them.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging works by showing blood flow within the brain. It can't show what a person is thinking, but it can show which parts of the brain are being activated. When Raymond picked up his workbook, blood flowed to the parts o the readers' brains that are associated with grasping motions. When he walked over to his teacher's desk, the frontal cortex and hippocampus lit up -- the areas of the brain that deal with location in space. When Raymond shook his head no, the part of the brain that deals with goal-directed activity was activated. This suggests, the authors wrote, "that readers understand a story by stimulating the events in the story world and updating their simulation when features of that world change. (141-142)
He then goes on to quote Will Wright, creator of Sim City and The Sims (the latter, after reading Maslow):

"You've only got a limited bubble of experience in your entire life, [...] and you're going to perform better if you can build from a larger set of experiences than you could have personally. As a caveman, you know, your fellow cavemen left the cave and a tiger almost ate him. So he comes back and tells you the story -- This tiger almost ate me! And the next time you leave the cave, you'll look around and make sure there's not a tiger there."
It is perhaps no surprise that this comes from the creator of The Sims. It is a shame that it is game creators rather than fiction writers (and theorists) who best understand the nature of fiction. It certainly points to what many of us have argued is the primary adaptive function of storytelling.

"a kind of thought experiment": Steven Pinker, "Toward a Consilient Description of Literature," Philosophy and Literature 31 (2007), 161-77

"that readers understand a story": Nicole K. Speer, Jeremy R. Reynolds, Khena M. Swallow, and Jeffrey M. Zacks, "Reading Stories Activates Neural Representations of Visual and Motor Experiences," Psychological Science 20, no. 8 (August 2009), 989-99

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Modern Man Made by (Moderate) Madmen

Here is an interesting article on the differences between modern humans and Neandertals. And here is the punchline:

what if the archetype of the visionary/mystical leader with charisma is responsible for the distinctiveness of modern human groups? This is not a common individual, but not exceptionally rare. Most humans are not particular visionary, nor are they prone to mysticism. Perhaps the difference between Neandertals and behaviorally modern humans was less about large between group differences in individual level traits, and more about the fact than Neandertals simply lacked the leadership cadre which behaviorally modern humans possessed. In this scenario most modern humans are just like Neandertals, lacking vision, drive, and proximate insanity.
Another way of saying this: shamans and artists created mankind. Nietzsche had a different name for the makers of mankind, of course.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Against Literary Darwinism -- and a Reponse

Jonathan Kramnick wrote Against Literary Darwinism." Joseph Carroll responds. I will note that the brain has several levels, and the presence of modularity at one level hardly an argument against general intelligence. In fact, general intelligence in humans allows for a fuller integration of the modules, allows for their overlap, and allows for considerable mental flexibility such that we have been able to adapt to almost every physical environment on earth. However, there are instincts and modules (are there overlaps?) that do restrict the kinds of social environments we can live well in, and it is thus important to understand the human brain at both levels.

As far as literature is concerned, it seems likely that literature -- storytelling -- is emergent through our general intelligence that synthesizes much of what goes on in our brains. Imagination combined with narrative (which is pre-human, existing in anything that hunts or tries to escape from hunters) and language (which itself has narrative structure in its grammatical structure) are all present in the human brain, and are combined to create stories at the level of general intelligence. In turn, as Carroll argues, "literature is adaptive precisely because it is a medium for cognitive flexibility."

The one thing Carroll does not make explicit, though it is implied, is the fact that when critics such as Kramnick use "history," they mean there is no biological basis, that it is entirely socially constructed, which in turn implies the blank slate theory of the brain. Literature is not considered by people like Kramnick to be "natural," but only historically contingent. Which makes it hard to understand the presence of stories in every culture throughout all of human history. A lot of energy is put into telling stories, and a lot of time and energy wasted in listening to them. If there is not some sort of adaptive benefit to stories, those cultures that did not tell them would have wiped out the rest -- or at the very least, we should be able to find a culture where stories don't exist.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Today is My Birthday

Happy Birthday to Me! :-)

Free day! Discuss what you want!

And as a present for me, get 5 of your friends to come read the blog!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Art tells the truth in the general form of a lie

Indeed, Art tells the truth in the general form of a lie. Nietzsche had it right. To understand literature, we need to understand lying and the reasons we lie, and the reasons we want to be lied to.

Data Mining Literature

Franco Moretti is data mining literature. Not evolution and literature, to be sure, but an interesting development all the same. My version I proposed in my dissertation is somewhere between data mining and evolutionary approaches. It involves data mining a work for theme words that have a fractal distribution, which I predicted to exist from the consistent appearance and evolution of fractal patterns in nature.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Problems with Teleology and Ignorance

One sometimes has to wonder if evolutionary scientists themselves understand evolution. A great example is in this article on wide-ranging female hominids. The study discovered that females left their groups, while males did not. Here's the problematic quote:

The new study results were somewhat surprising, said Copeland. "We assumed more of the hominids would be from non-local areas since it is generally thought the evolution of bipedalism was due in part to allow individuals to range longer distances," she said. "Such small home ranges could imply that bipedalism evolved for other reasons."

First, the results would not have been at all surprising if the scientists understood chimpanzee ethology. Female migration to other troops is a well-established pattern. Why would it be surprising hominids behaved the same way? Also, how many human societies require the woman to leave her family and go live with the husband's family? And in the U.S., how many more male children live at home well into their 20's than female children? This should have been a mere confirmation of the continuity of chimpanzee to human behavior.

The second statement is even more obvious, though. To say that "bipedalism evolved for" anything is a demonstration of a lack of understanding of the nature of evolution. There is not a single trait that evolved "for" anything. A trait evolved, and it if benefited the organisms (or at least didn't harm the organism that much) that expressed the trait, the trait was passed on (assuming no chance loss having nothing to do with the trait per se). Seeing that it is likely that human bipedalism emerged from the upright stance useful in arboreal movements, it is likely to be a merely retained trait, refined by living in grasslands. There is good evidence that bipedalism in fact emerged in forested areas, so it is in fact a preadaptation to grassland living. It also turns out to be very energy-efficient, so retaining it, particularly as the grasslands spread, would have been beneficial as well. Chimpanzees, living in more wooded areas, evolved quadripedalism -- from what was likely a bipedal ancestor, or at least an ancestor that, like bonobos, was partially bipedal.

In short, bipedalism didn't evolve for anything. Those apes that evolved a more upright stance could move through the trees better. And retention of that trait was at least not harmful as the apes moved to the forest floor. Teleological language has no business in statements about evolution from scientists. It only spreads confusion about the nature of evolution.

It would also be nice if scientists knew a bit more about more things than their immediate research. Immediate relations of the studied species comes to mind.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Empathy and Literature

Literature creates empathy in the reader, according to a University of Buffalo study. They argue that

reading satisfies a deeply felt need for human connection because we not only feel like the characters we read about but, psychologically speaking, become part of their world and derive emotional benefits from the experience.

They have developed what they call The Narrative Collective Assimilation Hypothesis, which states that,

by absorbing narratives, we can psychologically become a member of the group of characters described therein, a process that makes us feel connected to those characters and their social world.

"Social connection is a strong, human need," Gabriel says, "and anytime we feel connected to others, we feel good in general, and feel good about our lives. Our study results demonstrate that the assimilation of a narrative allows us to feel close to others in the comfort of our own space and at our own convenience.

"In our subjects, this led to a reported increase in life satisfaction and positive mood, which are two primary outcomes of belonging," she says.

This no doubt have important ramifications for understanding why we should be reading literature, something I have developed on my blog, Interdisciplinary World, in a posting titled Why Should Science and Technology Majors Study Literature. However, they point out that the empathy becomes so strong that

Their subjects not only connected with the characters or groups they read about, however. They adopted the behaviors, attitudes and traits that they could realistically approximate

This is a strong sense of identification. What else is able to create this level of identification?

Biomathematics and Literature

There is an article by Ian Stewart in The New Statesman on biomathematics, in which Stewart discusses how biological patterns that cannot be directly coded for by the DNA nevertheless emerge in biological organisms. Such patterns can range from spots and stripes to the layout of neurons -- and thus (in the latter case), are of vital importance to understanding the biological basis of literary production. With such investigations, chaos theory, fractal patterns, and (though not mentioned in the article) self-organization become increasingly important to understanding biology and evolution. As these things become more integrated into biology, literary Darwinism may end up taking a more Frederick Turner-esque turn.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

James Scott

Too bad we can't all attend this year's Tanner Lectures, given by James Scott. The four great domestications as a paper topic? Or, perhaps, even a book?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reacting to Injustice

The sense of justice has been traced to the amygdala. "The study is based on the universal human behaviour to react with instant aggression when another person behaves unfairly and in a manner that is not in the best interest of the group." They observe too that people will often punish others even at a cost to themselves -- a result well known and well established by game theory. This sense of justice, and universal reaction should of course be found throughout literature. But note that the refusal to accept an unfair deal is what is traced to the amygdala. And that there are gender differences. Thus, one should expect to see men reacting more violently to unfair situations, and women accepting unfair situations, even while complaining about it as much as men do -- in life as in literature. Consider Achilles' reaction to having his prize taken from him, resulting in the action of The Iliad.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I Love You

When do characters say "I love you"? And how do they feel about it? And does it reflect this new research?

Our Own Status Affects the Way Our Brains Respond to Others

Recent research shows that our own status affects the way our brains respond to others. It seems we give more weight to the opinions of those with the same status as we perceive ourselves to have than to those with either higher or lower status. Such status is not just monetary, but power, merit, etc.

Such research is only just beginning, but it should be of interest to those who study literature. We should see these status interactions playing out in literature, and the investigation of different kinds of -- and the evolution of what is considered to be valid -- status levels beyond mere Marxist materialist or postmodern power divisions should be of great interest. What variations and status evolutions might one see in society and in literature?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals

Jason Palmer at the BBC reports that a paper in Nature, Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals, casts serious doubt on Chomsy's univeral grammar. It does not. But Palmer's understanding of the paper does highlight the degree to which people do not understand the relationship between the contraints created by our genetic system and the evolution we see at the social level. The presence of spontaneous order, or self-organization, at the social level certainly does not mean there is an absence of genetic contraints as expressed in fixed-plastic neural pathways in the brain.

The article is looking at word-order evolution, and discovers that word-order demonstrates social evolution. The conlusion seem to be that this disproves universal grammar. But this is hardly the case, as word order in and of itself is not an example of deep grammar. Universal grammar involves the universal presence of certain linguistic elements, such as nouns and verbs, subjects and predicates. With these constraints, and considerably flexibility in word-order and vocabulary, which could (and do) evolve at the social level, it is easy to generate the diversity with unity that constitutes human language.

Here is how it works. The genes set constraints on the layout of the neural pathways as the brain develops. Thus, for language, certain elements must appear, such as nouns and verbs, subjects and predicates, etc. These neurons are partially plastic, allowing the brain to adapt to the environment. For a languaging species, langauge itself becomes part of the environment. Elements such as vocabulary and word-order may be more adaptible if more flexible, and so remain in the social sphere. This social sphere is a spontaneous order, meaning that an order emerges, as the patterns of word-order evolution observed in the study shows, yet it is a changing order. This emergent social order interact with each individual's brain to adjust those plastic elements so that individual can learn the specifics of the langauge in that time and place to be able to communicate with others.

In other words, this Nature paper described elements of the spontaneous order of language, but did nothing to overturn universal grammar. We have to remember that we are both genetic and social simultaneously. The presence of diversity in culture does not mean there is no such thing as cultural universals. The presence of diversity in literature does not mean there is no such thing as literary universals. And the presence of diversity in language, let alone a social pattern of evolution of certain elements of language, does not mean there is no such thing as universal grammar.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Origins of Language

The New York Times reports on a recent analysis of the origins of language, which suggests that language began once, in southern Africa, around 50,000 years ago. Quentin D. Atkinson, a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, used mathematical analysis and "what biologists call a serial founder effect. Each time a smaller group moves away, there is a reduction in its genetic diversity," which he used by analyzing phonemic diversity.

Who knows what, if anything, this has to do with literature, but it seemed to be something that would be of interest to those of us interested in evolution-based analyses of literature.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Unleashed Mind

Scientific American has an interesting article on the connection between creativity and eccentricity. It notes that artists have a high incidence of depression, but also a high probability of having a schizotypal personality, which comes in a variety of forms, including magical thinking ("such as belief in telepathic communication, dreams that portend the future, and memories of past lives"), unusual perceptual experiences, social anhedonia (a preference for solitary activities), and mild paranoia. I write plays, poems, and short stories, and I myself am mildly bipolar, remember having had dreams that portend the future when I was younger, and I even have a mild form of synesthesia in that the texture of foods give them different flavors to me (spaghetti and fettuccine actually taste completely different to me).

The author argues that the reason creative people exhibit these features is because of cognitive disinhibition.

Cognitive disinhibition is the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals or to survival. We are all equipped with mental filters that hide most of the processing that goes on in our brains behind the scenes. So many signals come in through our sensory organs, for example, that if we paid attention to all of them we would be overwhelmed. Furthermore, our brains are constantly accessing imagery and memories stored in our mental files to process and decode incoming infor­mation. Thanks to cognitive filters, most of this input never reaches conscious awareness.

This is less active in creative people, meaning they actually experience more of the world. As noted, this can be overwhelming. It is not uncommon for artists to be overwhelmed -- and to thus go crazy. Most stay sane by funneling it into their creative works. The occasional voices become characters in a story and are thus controlled, tamed. Thus, the ability to control one's thoughts is a necessary part of the creative process. One needs self-control and discipline as much as cognitive disinhibition to make art and literature.

One must wonder, however, what effect, if any, this has on the reader. Or how understanding this might affect our understanding of an artist's works. How should this affect the way we analyze works?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Identifying Criminals in Literature

Can we identify criminals on sight? It seemswe can to a certain degree. Something else to look for in works of literature.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yor Eye Color Makes You Beautiful -- or Not

Beauty in others is found in the whites of the eyes: "people with bloodshot eyes are considered sadder, unhealthier and less attractive than people whose eye whites are untinted, a cue which is uniquely human." Another thing to look for when you're reading and analyzing your favorite novel, poem, or play.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sympathy Yawning

Contagious lawning is a sign of empathy, and it turns out that chimpanzees sympathy-yawn too. More, they do so with familiar chimpanzees, but not with strangers.

Are there any literary examples of sympathy-yawning? If so, are there examples of characters who do not participate? It would seem to me that non-participation in sympathy-yawning would be very telling of a character or characters -- whether they are non-sympathetic, or the one yawning is a stranger.

Bonobos, Chimipanzees, and Humans

A comparative analysis of chimpanzee and bonobo brains has shed some light on human social behavior. Not surprisingly, human behavior is between bonobos and chimpanzees, with the average human male closer to bonobos in behavior, but status-striving males closer to chimpanzees. I will also note that sociopaths are almost identical to chimpanzees in behavior. In any case, humans vary between the two.

The first article notes that bonobos separated off from the chimpanzee line after the chimpanzee/bonobo line split from what would become humans. I doubt that. There is good evidence that chimpanzees split from the human/bonobo line, and then the humans and bonobos split. Superficially bonobos look more like chimpanzees than humans, but the fact that bonobos share several neotenous traits with humans, including vaginal angle (allowing for more comfortable face-to-face copulation), suggests such a branching. This would also make sense of the similarities in brain activity/behavior as well as the fact that bonobos are genetically closer to humans than are chimpanzees.

What does all of this have to do with literature? Well, if we understand the fact that humans behaviorally are between chimpanzees and bonobos, then it suggests we should try to understand both species to understand better our own. Perhaps we can make more sense of characters' behaviors by understanding their closeness to chimpanzee or bonobo behavior.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Social Pain and Metaphors for Physical Pain

Social rejection hurts. Literally. This is one of those metaphors that has physical reality. No wonder, then, that works of literature dealing with such rejection are full of metaphors for physical pain.

Sylvia Plath, for example, uses painful tastes as a metaphor for rejection:


My thoughts are crabbed and sallow,
My tears like vinegar,
Or the bitter blinking yellow
Of an acetic star.

Tonight the caustic wind, love,
Gossips late and soon,
And I wear the wry-faced pucker of
The sour lemon moon.

While like an early summer plum,
Puny, green, and tart,
Droops upon its wizened stem
My lean, unripened heart.

Note we have vinegar, sour, tart. We know each of these as "sharp" tastes. Why sharp? Because sharp is stabbing, causes pain. The other sense mentioned is that of the wind on the skin, described as "caustic." A "caustic wind" is one that is of course a burning wind -- buring being painful, of course. Synonyms are "bitter" and "acid." Vinegar is an acid, of course. So the series of metaphros is maintained.

The fact that social rejection makes one stimulate in the brain the same pathways as are stimulated by actual physical pain allows one to make sense of the consistent use of such metaphors in, for example, poems about social rejection.


We typically think of Darwinism when discussing genetics and inheritance, but more and more it is becoming obvious that there is Lamarkian epigenetic inheritance as well. Not only are genes heritable, but gene expression patterns. And those gene expression patterns are determined by one's environment. In other words, the environment affects my gene expression patterns, and those gene expression patterns are then inherited by my children. We have known about epigenetics -- particularly DNA methylation (something I was fascinated with when I was actively studying molecular biology in college) -- for a while now, but it has only been recently that much attention has been paid to it. The human genome project seems to have had a huge influence on these developments, since the number of active genes seemed bizarrely small for such a complex organism as human beings. What gives? Well, there are all sorts of regulatory differences,and mong them are epigenetic influences as well.

What does epigenetic inheritance have to do with understanding human nature, evolutionary psychology, and literature? It may be too early to know. But it's never too early to keep an eye out for such research, to be familiar with such effects, to keep abrest of the latest developments. Epigenetics is very important -- we just don't know to what degree, or how it affects human behavior. Yet.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This Is Your Brain on Art

Morgan Meis wonders if it will truly be a sad day when neuroscience allows us to completely understand art? Of course, this begs the question of whether what he is concerned with is at all possible. With 10^10,000 possible brain states per person, I think art may be safe.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Naturalistic Approaches to Culture?

For our readers who are affiliated with an institution of higher education and/or research in Europe, you should consider applying to attendNaturalistic Approaches to Culture? It looks pretty exciting.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I Have a Gut Feeling About this Research's Importance to Literary Studies

It turns out that there is a direct connection between the bacteria in your intestines and learning, memory, and behavior. In other words, to know something in your guts may be more than a mere metaphor. This research suggests that what bacteria are present in your guts affect your psychiatric state. This suggests that some interesting work could be done looking at the way authors represent characters' psychological states and their physical conditions. How many characters have "stomach problems" that affect them and their mental states? Might the linked research lead to our understanding the relation between some specific bacterial cocktails and their psychological affects on their hosts? If so, may we not see this in works of literature?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't Analyze Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes

Robin Hanson, an economist who blogs at Overcoming Bias, posts on What the Eyes Say. He points out something I have known for a while, but hardly have at the forefront of thought, which is that humans have "the largest and most visible sclera – the “whites” of the eyes – of any species," which allows us to communicate quite a bit with our eyes. Ah yes, the eyes, which are the windows to our souls. We can communicate direction with a glance. We can give ourselves away with a glance.

How much literature deals with eyes, glances, etc.? A great deal. Volumes worth of literary analysis, I'm sure. Who is ready to write "A Sclerical Analysis of Literature"?

Isabel Behncke: Evolution's gift of play, from bonobo apes to humans

Monday, March 21, 2011

How Music Soothes the Savage Beast

Why do humans enjoy bird songs? We do, after all, describe many bird songs as beautiful. Why would we find songs produced by another species, meant to announce their territorial boundaries and attract their mates, when those boundaries and mates mean nothing at all to us, attractive? One answer, perhaps, is that birds -- especially songbirds -- sing when it is safe to sing. If there are no predators around, it is safe for the bird to sing. But if a predator -- or any other large animal that could be a predator -- enters the bird's territory, they stop singing. It seems that a species that paid attention to bird song -- and especially its cessation -- would be able to use that as a signal to beware of the possibility of a predator. Those individuals that did pay attention to song and its cessation would be more likely to avoid predators than one that did not. And even the tiniest selective advantage spreads rapidly through the population. Further, the brain has mechanisms that result in its rewarding itself for beneficial activities. Thus, pleasure associated with bird song would result in the individual paying even more attention to bird song, making the individual even more aware of the song's cessation. Of course, now that we are no longer in many dangerous situations, where we have to worry about predators, we can mostly sit back and enjoy the songs we hear. Perhaps even transform that enjoyment into a poem for others to enjoy. And where does music come from? The unification of music and language. And where does language come from? My guess is: the bifurcation of territorial/mating calls into music and language. Another reason, then, that we love bird song: the remind us of us, of our distant, ancient past.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Variations in seratonin levels affect our perception of intimacy -- including our own. Low seratonin is associated with poor personal relationships and depression. One would expect a few things, then, from this. First, authors who were chrinocally depressed may be expected to write stories in which there are primarily poor personal relationships. Second, we should see these correlations -- and their opposites -- in stories' characters. Third, seratonin levels may also affect our perception, and thus our interpretation, of relationships in literature. Now that would be an interesting reformulation of reader-response theory!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How Literature Expands Reality

People often assume that metaphors are merely optional figures of speech whose purpose is to enliven expression and make it more poetic and appealing. The common assumption is that we could speak literally, but its more colloquial and comfortable to use imagery–unless we’re trying to be precise, in which case metaphors muddy up the idea being expressed. But according to research in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and linguistics, metaphors are not just words or images that help describe a concept that already exists in the mind. Instead, metaphorical connection is the way the human brain understands anything abstract. The deepest metaphors are not optional or decorative: they’re a kind of sense, like seeing or hearing, and much of what we consider to be reality can be perceived and experienced only through them. We understand almost everything that is not concrete (even “concrete” is a metaphor) in terms of something else. In short, the expansiveness of our metaphors determines the expansiveness of our reality.

Joel R. Primack & Nancy Ellen Abrams
The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos p. 243

An apt reversal of Wittgenstein. Our language is limited only by our ability to create metaphors. Literature expands reality. We have the neuroscience to prove it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

H = M * S

Is there a mathematical equation one can use to understand just how funny something is? Perhaps, yes.

h = m * s

Where h = the pleasure we get
m = the degree of misinformation perceived
s = the extent to which the individual is susceptible to taking it seriously

In other words, "humour rewards us for seeing through misinformation that has come close to taking us in."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Frederick Turner's Epic Poems Re-Released!

Contemporary epic poet, Frederick Turner's, scifi epic poem THE NEW WORLD is in print again, from Ilium Press. An excerpt can be read here and it is now available through Amazon's Kindle. The new print edition will be out soon.

Ilium Press will also be reprinting his other great epic, GENESIS: AN EPIC POEM in the next few weeks.

These are fine examples of works influenced by evolutionary biology.

Evolution as a Literary Theme

This blog is primarily about how knowing evolution can inform us in analyzing literature. But how might knowing evolution also influence literature? There are plenty of examples, and I am sure that it will continue to influence literature.

One element of literature is that it creates a world of "what-if?" that can expand thinking. Well, let me ask this: What if humans started acting like bonobos?

The Cerebellum, Reading, and IQ

new research suggests that there is a relationship between high IQ and the cerebellum. I have already noted the connection between the cerebellum and irregular timing, suggesting that it may respond to prose rhythms.

Which raises an interesting question: could the mere fact of reading prose, any prose, increase general intelligence? Specific prose -- on economics, biology, or philosophy, for example -- of course informs one about such things, and thus increases topic-specific intelligence. Reading across the genres allows one to see patterns and make connections, of course, and thus might also raise general intelligence to a certain degree. But may it also be that reading prose about anything at all could raise one's intelligence by its interactions in the cerebellum? This seems a potentially fruitful avenue of scientific research. One can see if there is such a positive correlation. Also, one can research how the cerebellum reacts in response to reading prose.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New View of How Humans Moved Away From Apes

The New York Times has an article expanding on an article I already linked to on the evolution of distinctively human social traits. In fact, the points made about the nature of tribal bands and their interconnections, varieties of kinship and nonkinship, F. A. Hayek's observations that different social orders would compete and the best emerge, and Matt Ridley's thesis in The Rational Optimist about trade seem intimiately connected. If so, my project here and at Austrian Economics and Literature are in fact intimately related. Certainly both are about applying the studies of evolutionary processes to understanding literature.

But this idea of interrelated human bands of typically unrelated people is suggestive. Surely we see these dynamics in life and, thus, in literature -- novels and epics being the most obvious places one would see such dynamics represented.

Friday, March 11, 2011

High Levels of Testosterone in utero, IQ, and Literature

Does high levels of testosterone in utero cause genius? I wouldn't doubt it. High levels of testosterone in utero also causes heritable left-handedness (approximately 50% of left-handers, the other 50% being caused by birth trauma), and we see an extremely high percentage of left-handers in the arts, math, and the sciences. This suggests that at the very least high levels of testosterone in utero may be a cause of a considerable number of incidences of high IQ.

This potentially helps explain why males tend to dominate in the arts, math, and sciences. I would not be surprised to find that an unusual number of women who do well in these fields are left-handed, or have higher than usual testosterone levels (or exhibit behaviors typical of those who experienced high levels of testosterone in utero).

If this is true for even a significant percentage of artists, what effect might this have on literature? Left-handers tend to turn to the left and notice things to their left more than to the right (vice versa for right handers). Do we see evidence of this in works of literature? How might one identify such things? I will note that the creator of The Simpsons is left handed, and a great many of the characters in the show are also left handed. There is even an entire episode on Ned Flanders opening a store for left handers, The Leftorium.

But there are likely to be other consequences. Does high levels of testosterone in utero affect cognition? Emotions? World view? Sexual behavior and sexuality (we know it does for these two)? If having had high levels of testosterone in utero affect these and any number of other aspects of cognition, we should expect to see it in works of literature produced by such people. How does this affect literary history? The effects of literature on culture?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Anthropologists link human uniqueness to hunter-gatherer group structure

Some potentially interesting research for literary Darwinists on the origins of human uniqueness.

Two Types of Rhythms

The brain perceives two types of rhythms in two different brain locations.

The researchers found that a network comprising the basal ganglia was activated for the timing of regular sounds, whereas a network in the cerebellum was found to be activated for the timing of irregular sound sequences.
The basal ganglia are involved in such things as voluntary motor control, procedural learning relating to routine behaviors or habits, eye movements, and modulates cognitive and emotional functions. With the exception of the emotional functions, each of these are timing functions.

The cerebellum is involved in the coordination, precision, and accurate timing of motor control, with attention and language, and in regulating fear and pleasure. Again, with the exception of the emotional functions, each of these are timing functions.

The rhythms of rhythmic poetry and prose, it seems, invoke different parts of the brain. Interestingly, the part of the brain involved in language is that which is used for irregular sounds sequences. We speak in prose. Yet note some of the other things listed. The cerebellum is also involved in fear and pleasure regulation. We have horror novels, but where are the horror poems? The closest might be Poe's "The Raven," but then one does not feel so much horror when reading the poem as a certain creepiness, sadness, or haunting feeling. I will also note that much literary prose we read is in the form of novels -- a genre that requires our attention. These may not be unrelated, then.

But let us look at the relation between rhythmic verse and the functions of the basal ganglia. Regular rhythms are very much like routine behaviors -- the same rhythm, like a habit, recurs. The fact that cognitive and emotional functions are also modulated in the basal ganglia might also suggest that rhythmic poetry could contribute to the modulation of into our emotions and cogntiive abilities. Or at least influence it, for better or worse? Regular rhythms at the very least seem to be very persuasive -- both emotionally and cognitively. Might this be the very reason for that? Consider the fact, too, that rituals are a kind of "procedural learning relating to routine behaviors or habits," allowing for the perpetuation of cultural norms, including ethical beliefs. This suggests a close relationship between ritual and poetry beyond the mere use of poetry in rituals.

Of course, rarely are poems purely and perfectly rhythmic. There are variations in just how stressed or unstressed a syllable is. And some syllables can change based on its neighbors. This creates a level of irregularity on top of the regularity. Those poems which can accomplish this, then, are likely to tap into both parts of the brain simultaneously. Another way a poet might be able to accomplish this is to mix up the regularity of the rhythms in the lines. Many ancient Greek poems did this. where regular line rhythms are used, but a variety are mixed together. A poem with, say, the following rhythm:

with each quatrain repeated might be able to do both simultaneously, since the brain is detecting both regularity and irregularity.

What other insights might we be able to gain from this? What uses might one be able to put this in regards to versification?

Three Layers of Memory

There are three layers of memory:

a core focusing on one active item, a surrounding area holding at least three more active items, and a wider region containing passive items that have been tagged for later retrieval or "put on the back burner."
What does this imply for reading? It is known that while we are focusing on one word, we are also peripherally aware of the words on either side. Is this part of the same process? And what about the elements that have been tagged? What sorts of things do our memories tag? How might that affect the structure of sentences, or word patterns?

An author of the original study also notes that

"Predictability can free up resources so a person can effectively multitask"
May this be one of the uses of rhythm and rhyme in poetry?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You Are What You Like

What do your aesthetic tastes say about you? If our personalities affect what we like to read, they certainly must affect what authors write. How might personality research affect understanding literature? Certainly our personality traits affect our ways of viewing the world. Do literary works reflect only a few personality types? What about those we've canonized? If so, what effect does that have on culture? On the further evolution of literature?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

Music, Emotions, and Literature

Here is something that won't surprise anyone here: Listening to Music is Biological. "Similarities between human and animal song have been detected: both contain a message, an intention that reflects innate emotional state that is interpreted correctly even among different species." This sounds remarkably like a good definition of literature: it contains a message, an intention that reflects an innate emotional state that is interpreted correctly by different people. It also sounds much like a good definition of language itself.

But consider the fact that, as Ortony, Clore, and Collins, in The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, argue, the emotions have a structure similar to language (and to music):

there are three major aspects of the world, or changes in the world, upon which one can focus, namely, events, agents, or objects. When one focuses on events one does so because one is interested in their consequences, when one focuses on agents, one does so because of their actions, and when one focuses on objects, one in interested in certain aspects of imputed properties of them qua objects. (18)

Subject-action/verb-object. The structure of grammar and of narrative. If there is a message, that means there is an intended audience. Music (as well as song and storytelling) in its creation has subject-action-object/receiver structure. More than this, "several behavioral features in listening to music are closely related to attachment: lullabies are song to infants to increase their attachment to a parent, and singing or playing music together is based on teamwork and may add group cohesion." So there is a social element to music-making, singing, and storytelling. Prior to writing, epic storytelling involved the storyteller's response to the reactions of the audience. If the audience showed boredom, increase action; if the audience showed they didn't like the story, shift to a different subplot. In addition, it seems that listening to music helps one with determining the emotional state of others -- something of definite adaptive advantage for a social species.

Chimpanzees and bonobos are generally quiet (bonobos less so than chimpanzees) in the wild. Some of their communication is vocal, but most is facial and gestural (visual). Gibbons, however, sing. Gibbons are members of the “lesser apes,” and move through the trees using brachiation – they swing through the trees using their arms. This gives them and orangutans both more upright stances, since their legs hang down under their bodies as they swing. To attract mates and maintain social bonds, gibbons sing. So it would not be too much of a stretch to suggest the ancestor of humans could have been a singing ape too. Especially once our ancestors became bipedal, and our larynx dropped and stretched out, giving them a wider range of sounds. This would suggest that music could have been a primary precursor to language. Certainly, music “has a generative structure similar to that of language” (Corballis, 269), and Corballis goes further to suggest as I am, that “Given the rather diffuse yet pervasive quality of music in human society, it may well have been a precursor to language, perhaps even providing the raw stuff out of which generative grammar was forged” (269). Language likely emerged from the bifurcation of ape-song into music and language. Poetry/song reintegrates the two. Which helps explains it's power as a literary art.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How Nature's Patterns Form

If you want to create patterns," apply stress to a system. "Patterns arise when the symmetry of a system is broken." I discuss the connection among emergent complexity, patterns, and symmetry-breaking in Diaphysics. This article argues that symmetry-breaking occurs when stress is put on a system (that stress can occur between genetic constraints and physical constraints during development -- causing a far-from-equilibrium state). More, "The similarity in patterns from system to system occur when the systems have similar symmetry, rather than because the systems are made from the same materials." This is why we see a universality in such patterns.

Literary fiction emerges from stress being placed on the writing. Rhythms and rhymes in poetry. Repetitions of words, images, metaphors, ideas, etc. Many good rules result in the emergence of patterns. It would not be surprising if those patterns deomonstrated fractal geometry in word distribution, as do the patterns being investigated in the whort article above. Investigating such patterns and how they emerge is just as naturalistic as Darwinian investigations, though of a somewhat different kind. But I would argue that they are just as important, in the same way that self-organization, developmental patterns, etc. are as important to understanding development and organization in organisms as are puerly Darwinian explanations. They complement each other, and contribute to a more complex Darwinain paradigm.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

3 Second Rules

In Natural Classicism, Frederick Turner and Ernst Poppel argued that poem line lengths were typically 3 seconds long because that fit into our 3 second sort-term memory slot, and thus represented the human present. Well, a short piece in the 4 Feb. 2001 Science argues that Hugs Follow a 3-Second Rule, a finding which "supports a hypothesis that we go through life perceiving the present in a series of 3-second windows." Further, they observe that "Crossculural studies have shown that goodbye waves, musical phrases, and infants' bouts of babbling and gesturing all last about 3 seconds, as do many basic physiological events, such as relaxed breathing." The piece argues that "The results reinforce an idea current among some psychologists that intervals of about 3 seconds are basic temporal units of life that define our perception of the present moment." As Turner and Poppel observed several decades ago, this has real consequences for literary production -- at least, poetic production. This also perhaps argues in favor of verse plays as a way of helping actors memorize their lines (and if it's rhythmic verse, the rhythm will help as well). But do these facts come into play in prose fiction? If so, how? Might we see these things at play in character interactions? If so, how?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?

Robert Blumen at The Ludwig von Mises Institute wonders Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?

He doesn't answer the question, but concludes that after 100 years or so of it, the fact that it's a market failure should be an indiciation that it's time to move on.

However, there is of course an answer to the question. It's not answerable by economic theory, of cource, but by Darwinian theory. As Jonah Lehrer argues, the answer is that we have an evolved range of tastes for music. There are sounds we find beautiful, and sounds we do not. We can learn to like things we are unfamiliar with, but we cannot learn to like things we were not evolved to like.

So why keep making it? I surmise that there are those who want it made as a status symbol. The problem with the free market is that it makes all material status symbols available to the poorest among us after a while. And that "after a while" has sped up remarkably of late. So what indicates status? If the wealthy can find something that the average person doesn't even want, they can signal high status by declaring that, contrary to the hoi poloi, they do like it. Bring on the pickled sharks and 12-tone rows! So long as the free market undermines material status symbols, I suspect our evolved desire to indicate high status through symbols will drive the wannabe elites to embrace art works the average person distains. The funny thing is, though, that such behaviors may in fact have an undermining effect, as the average person isn't at all impressed by those wanting to show their high status embracing such works, but increasingly roll their eyes, or outright laugh at them. If that happens, where will the wealthy go for their status symbols? It's hard to say -- but you may rest assured that they will find them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Birthday Darwin

Today is Darwin's birthday. The great man had an enormous effect on our understanding of the world. We are still grappling with the implications of his ideas. Only now we are coming around to understanding how correct were his insights into morality. Only now are we beginning to truly understand the connection of his ideas to social order, economics in particular (not surprising, considering how indebted Darwin was to the ideas of many economists). Only now are we seeing the full fruition of his ideas in evolutionary psychology and literary Darwinism. My interest in all of these fields is thus perhaps no coincidence. My world view is so fundamentally formed by evolutionary theory that it demands expression in a variety of fields. We are on the cusp of realizing Darwin's true vision in the world, in our sciences, in our understanding. It is an exciting time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

argument for adaptive function of literature

Troy explained to me how to post a new message, so I'm trying it out. (I always liked that scene in Catch--22 where Orr gets shot down, is in his inflatable life raft, and tries out everything in his survival kit, just to see how it all works.)

I'm writing an essay on violence, homicide, and war in literature, for an evolutionary handbook on violence, homicide, and war. When I got to the conclusion, I remarked that we don't necessarily get pleasure from reading about painful things, but we do get pleasure from learning about the extremes of human experience. I said we have evolved an adaptively functional need to find out about such things, and not just find out about them in an intellectual, conceptual way, but to understand them emotionally, to feel them. "Literature and other emotionally charged imaginative constructs—the other arts, religions, and ideologies—inform our emotional understanding of human behavior. The arts expand our feeling for why other people act as they do, help us to anticipate how they are likely to respond to our behavior, and offer suggestions about what kind of value we should attach to alternative courses of action."

It seems to me that this formulation implies a fairly simple and virtually axiomatic argument about the adaptive function of literature and the other arts. (1) we have evolved and adaptively functional need for emotionally informed understanding of human experience; (2) literature and the other arts fulfill that adaptively functional need; (3) ergo, literature and the other arts are adaptively functional.

I don't see any logical holes in that, and it doesn't seem to me that either of the first two propositions is doubtful or speculative. What do you think?

Joseph Carroll has a new book!

Exciting news for those interested in evolution and literature. Joseph Carroll has a new book coming in March!

Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice

You may rest assured that it is on my short list. Especially anything described as "Essays in constructive literary theory, polemics, practical literary criticism, empirical (quantitative) literary Research, and intellectual history."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Smaller Brains in Contemporary Humans

As social complexity has increased, brain size has decreased. Indeed, this article argues that there has been a significant decrease in brain size in humans -- which probably signifies the brain is becoming more efficient. Of course, it could mean that it is becoming denser, which would result in more complexity -- something we see in cities, for example. What implications might this have for theories of human intelligence and behavior that seem to rely on a relatively unchanging human nature for the past 10,000-30,000 years? Might we expect some changes in behavior with such increases in density and/or decreases in brain size?

The Scientist and the Poet

An article by Paul A. Cantor on The Scientist and the Poet. His statement that

To the poet, the scientist seems unimaginative and literal-minded—with his head buried in the ground of facts, incapable of comprehending the larger significance of what he does. To the scientist, the poet seems to have his head up in the clouds, indulging in fantastic visions of what might be and losing sight of the way things really are.
reminds me of what Nietzsche has Zarathustra say about how the tallest trees have the deepest roots, into evil. Yet, Nietzsche's a very complex writer. For Nietzsche, the "evil" are those who challenge the status quo (thus, for Nietzsche, this is not a bad thing). And who challenges the status quo more than scientists? And in their reductionism (to pick up a stereotype of scientists that is increasingly inaccurate with the advent of the complexity sciences), we have the image of "down" and, thus, "buried in the ground." If the poets are, on the other hand, stretching ever-upward, into the clouds, then there is an argument here for what Cantor is arguing -- that the division between the poets and the scientists makes no sense. More than that, the higher the poets stretch into the clouds, the deeper their roots need to be, if they are going to last. The greatest poets will have to become more rooted in the sciences under this argument. Indeed, the more disconnected the poets have become from the world of science -- and from the world itself -- the more disconnected poetry has become from any audience other than academics and fellow poets. Of course, I have argued in my paper on The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts that this may be an expected outcome of the arts becoming indepentent spontaneous orders. But is this a necessary outcome? If so, people like Frederick Turner and me may be on the wrong track. But isn't there room for interdisciplinary -- cross-spontaneous order -- works?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Varieties of Love in Marriage

In a posting titled Darwinian Marriage (2): A Response to Robert George, Larry Arnhart argues that

While Darwinian evolutionary science shows the ultimate causes of marriage, the modern neuroscience of human psychology shows the proximate causes of marriage as rooted in at least four kinds of love--sexual lust, sexual romance, sexual attachment, and parental love.

Sexual lust is an indiscriminate drive for sexual arousal that seems to be connected with testosterone and other neurohormonal mechanisms. Sexual romance is a discriminate drive for sexual interest in some special person, and this seems to be connected with dopamine and perhaps serotonin. Sexual attachment is an enduring bond between husband and wife that ties them together even when the lust and romance has faded, and this seems to be connected to oxytocin and vasopressin. Finally, parental love is the attachment to children that seems to be reinforced by various neurohormonal mechanisms.
Are these the only kinds? What implications might these divisions have on literary analysis? How do these forms of love play themselves out in conflicts in literature? These divisions seem like they would be fruitful for the analysis of perhaps most literature. (What, after all, is literature about except sex and violence?)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Information Compression, Music/Literature and the Brain

New research into music suggests that our brain's ability to compress a piece affects its universality. A work that is complex, but has high redundancy, will be most compressible while retaining high information content. In information theoretic terms, the message is most efficiently and accurately transmitted.

The article notes that rock/pop music compresses to about 60%, while Beethoven's 3rd symphony compresses to about 40%. Is it any coincidence that the golden mean ratio is )0.618:1, or about 60%? 60% ocpmpressibility is of course 40% redundancy; 40% conpressibility is 60% redundancy. The 60% appears on either end of these two examples' complexity. Is that a coincidence? If not, what does this say about how the brain works? What might it say about the level of redundancy in any message we are trying to communicate to another person?

Language is also compressible this way. Is it possible that literary works tend to be more compressible than non-literary works? Is there a difference between poetry and prose? Or different kinds of poetry?

Some potentially interesting avenues of research.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weeping Women

When women cry in works of literature, what are the men's reactions? Do the women become less sexually appealing to the men witnessing them cry? Do the men lose sexual arousal? Do they soften their behaviors, consistent with a drop in testosterone? Well, recent research shows that that's what's supposed to happen, due to the presence of a chemosignal in tears. More than that,

in Western culture, exposure to tears is usually in close proximity. We hug a crying loved one, often placing our nose near teary cheeks, typically generating a pronounced nasal inhalation as we embrace. Such typical behavior entails exposure equal to or greater than that experienced here [in the experimental proceedures], hence the effects we observed in the laboratory are elevant to human behavior. (Gelstein, Shani, et al. "Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal" Science. 14 Jan 2011. Vol. 331. pg 230)
The authors only investigated adult women's tears, so they do not know if the same effects occur with men and/or children.

Certainly this chemical is not an absolute determinant of behavior, nor does it necessarily mean all men will react the same way to (all) women's tears. However, as a pretty strongly correlated norm, this does suggest that one should look for such behaviors in works of literature -- and at deviations from this norm. And what, if any, cultural differences are there in reactions to crying? If there are such differences, they should show up in the literature. And if there are cultural differences, what kinds of intercultural conflicts might arise that literature could potentially (or perhaps already) deal with? And if there are works that do already deal with such conflicts, have they been noted?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Different Languages, Different Literatures

This month's Scientific American has an article on How Language Shapes Thoughts.

How might these insights affect the study of comparative literature? How might it affect translations? Or how polyglot writers create works of literature?

This also suggests that literature could have the power to change the way people think to a certain degree, by changing the language, as literature often does. If we consider Turner's idea of the blaze, this would be one way that literature performs this role.

For the literary Darwinist, the real question is what elements of thought are connected to language this way and what elements are not -- and how they interact. This would point to many of the commonalities among different literatures as well as explain the sources of their differences.

Why the Nose Knows No Art

While this does not have to do with literature, it does have to do with the arts, including the interesting fact that while there are visual and auditory arts (to which does literature belong? -- first the latter, then also the former? -- or is it properly an "imaginative art"?) there does not seem to be olfactory or taste arts. This short piece in Scientific American, Feb. 2011, may explain why. It seems that there is an extreme amount of variability in odor receptors in humans. As smell became deemphasized by evolution, random mutations simply took out some. Since there was no selective pressure one way or the other, we have a wide variety of knockouts. How can one have an art when there is no commonality in perception? (The rare exceptions of color blindness and tone deafness are not the same as a consistent, widespread variability such as this.) If beauty is variety in unity and unity in variety (Francis Hutcheson), then this touchstone of what makes something an art is literally impossible to achieve, since there is no unity in human perception of odor (or, by extention, taste, since smell affects it). Considering that no art developed in relation to this variety-only sense, this suggests something about variety-only theoriest of art, such as postmodernism -- which has properly been termed the Anti-Aesthetic. Art needs variety, but it seems that without unity, there can be no art at all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Developmental Evolutionary Psychology

There are two articles by Doug Kenrick et al that investigate what they call developmental evolutionary psychology, in 2002 and 2003, that has unfortunately not been developed much more. It seems to be a very important approach, as it provides a clear model for the development of cultural variation from evolutionary psychological foundations. The importance for an evolutionary approach to literary studies should thus be obvious. Certainly it should answer any objection to evolutionary approaches as reductionist. Their approach shows that a variety of strategies can emerge from common foundations.

Further, such feedback mechanisms suggest that developmental approaches such as Clare Graves', who developed Piaget's ideas into adulthood, thus discovering different levels of psychological and even social complexity emerging from those psychological-social interactions, may in fact have some validity. At least, we have a model for such theories. If we were to integrate evolutionary psychology (in the broadest understanding of the term) with the Kenrick, et al paradigm and Gravesean psychology, we might have a very powerful approach to understanding literary development as well as for understanding various characters in literature.


Here is Frederick Turner's visual on how the arts are related to the rest of the universe.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Criticism and Creating New Literature

Here is an interesting article by Elif Batuman on the value of literary criticism. She has some interesting things to say about Freud, then discusses Marxist criticism, but then ends by talking about the "neuronovel." She argues that one of the roles of good criticism is to move the art forward. However, she ends with the entirely correct observation that it was in the creation of a new work of art -- Don Quixote -- that literature took an evolutionary turn away from chivalric romances toward the modern European novel. It seems unlikely that Cervantes was reading the latest criticism of the chivalric romances and then came up with Don Quixote, yet one also cannot just toss aside the fact that there is a great deal of criticism which those of us who write plays, poems, and/or fiction read (and often write).

Perhaps the key is that authors need to be influenced by the latest ideas without making their works "about" those things. Certainly knowledge of this or that psychological disorder can help create a certain level of verisimilitude for a certain character -- even the main character -- but if the novel ends up being "about" that disorder rather than about the characters and the plot, then the work fails as a work of art.

Perhaps Elif Batuman is right, though, and it's time for a new Cervantes. We must remember, though, that Cervantes celebrated as much as he criticized the chivalric romances. He had to know them well to make fun of them as he did -- and he had to love them to have known them so well.