Here’s something fun from the bird kingdom: a mating dance that looks like Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and a researcher who posits an aesthetic sensibility in animals.
WNYC radio in New York has the story.
“Richard Prum is an ornithologist at Yale University … Some of Prum’s latest work is on the philosophy of aesthetics. It stems from his earliest research, as a young scientist, studying small South American birds called manakins. Manakins are known for outlandish mating displays. The males perform an elaborate dance, including moves that look a lot like moonwalking.
“To Prum’s eye, the diversity and complexity of these dances could only be explained as an appeal to the birds’ aesthetic preferences — in other words, it’s art. ‘My hypothesis is that ornament in manakins evolves merely because it’s beautiful,’ Prum says.
“This idea clashes with the view of most evolutionary biologists, who see displays like these as signs of evolutionary fitness. They think the male manakin’s dance signals to females that he is healthy and will sire strong offspring. …
“Prum says that Charles Darwin was on his side. ‘That was Darwin’s original idea about mate choice — it’s about the aesthetic faculty’ …
“Doesn’t this idea about animals having aesthetic preferences anthropomorphize them? ‘I think that we don’t anthropomorphize birds enough!’ Prum says. ‘We’re afraid of talking about their subjective experiences, because we can’t measure it. But in fact, what they experience is desire, the subjective experience of beauty, of being attracted to something.’ ” More here.