Sunday, August 24, 2008

The arts, and the choices we could make

Crows practice deception and coverups of that deception; magpies recognize themselves in mirrors; some human practices aren't as unique to our species as we would like to think. But what good is art? Other species don't create it. In evolutionary terms, what good is it?

Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique
by Michael S. Gazzaniga of UCSB

The attraction to stories, plays, paintings and music — experiences with no obvious evolutionary payoff — is puzzling. “Why does the brain contain reward systems that make fictional experiences enjoyable?” he asks. Part of the answer, he argues, is that fictional thinking engages innate “play” modules that enhance evolutionary fitness (that is, the ability to propagate one’s genes) by allowing us to consider possible alternatives — hypothetical situations — so that we can form plans in advance of dangers or even just unpleasant social situations. “From having read the fictional story about the boy who cried wolf when we were children,” he writes, “we can remember what happened to him in the story and not have to learn that lesson the hard way in real life.” Art may be more than a leisure activity. Artistic, representational thinking could have been fundamental in making us the way we are. As Gazzaniga concludes, “The arts are not frosting but baking soda.”
-- Daniel J. Levitin, N.Y. Times, 8/22/08, "Brain Candy"

The arts help our critical thinking; they help us imagine life other than the way it is. The arts point us toward our ideals.
And without that, what good are all the techno-gadgets and Land Rovers in the world?
Another good argument for arts education: They're not expendable fluff. They're essential. Unless young voters learn empathy, how will they avoid growing old and (basically) self-centered?

1 comment:

  1. Not really the place to post, as it's not really a response. Bobo! Still nothing about the closure of Ella's and CenterStage?