I Wanna Be Literated #190

I Wanna Be Literated #190

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Tuesday, 14 August 2018
BOOKS

The Evolution of Beauty
Richard Prum
(Doubleday Books)

Richard Prum seems to think he’s a Richard Dawkins type, which he’s not, and that’s probably at the heart of the problem with the Evolution of Beauty. What could have been a book that elevates our awareness of the world we live is instead just a clunky fragmented book.

First of all, Prum is the arrogant showoff type. Richard Dawkins is too, but Prum seems not to notice that he keeps it at a minimum in his books, sticking instead to the main thesis or personal anecdotes that prove the points of his book. Prum, on the other hand, often veers off the subject with stories of life no one asked him about and add nothing to the subject of his book. No one cares why he ended up in Surinam or at Harvard. At least, not until he’s actually somebody. Put your peacock feathers away, dude.

Second, Prum insists he’s keeping with the hypothesis of hardcore Darwinists (and Dawkins) and proving it but doesn’t seem to know how to slowly build his case step by step. So, we’re not sure where he’s getting at with his “Beauty Happens” theory or how this is a logically Darwinian phenomenon.

Finally, The Evolution of Beauty seems to try to prove its point backwards by taking mating behavior as it occurs today and treating it as having arrived fully formed and this is confusing. What Dawkins has done is to treat these behaviors, which seem ridiculously over the top (like the peacock’s tail, or the Argus Pheasant mating dance), and break it down to how it could have evolved from its earliest stage. That way, the extended phenotype that Dawkins talks about, becomes much easier to understand: with years of natural selection, a small behavioral or cosmetic signal that actually related to fitness could have gotten hijacked in the long run.

Prum has a lot of work to do before he actually reaches the caliber of his heroes like Dawkins and Darwin. As for us, at least we get to learn about the awesome Great Argus Pheasant and Bower Birds.

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