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.