In this seminar, Alexander Wilson will offer an account of aesthetics and culture in terms of evolutionary dynamics, and attempt to answer the question (a nod to N. Katherine Hayles): How did we not become posthuman?
As early as The Descent of Man, Darwin recognized how cultural evolution seemed to be suppressing the effects of natural selection. Indeed, as human evolution advanced, it progressively freed itself from the pressures of natural selection, creating its own unnatural, artificial world to inhabit: the technosphere. But this raises an interesting conundrum, for in nature, wherever the pressures of natural selection are weakened in this way, evolution gets busy speciating. When natural selective constraints are weakened, evolution is always poised to begin producing more variety, by allowing more and more extravagant mutations through the sieve of selection; in birds of paradise, this manifested itself in an explosion of non-survival related, sexually-selected traits such as colourful plumage and complex precoital behaviours, which in turn quickly led to reproductive isolation between different groups: speciation. So it is interesting to note that when humans, with their technosphere, suppressed the effects of natural selection to a degree greater than any other animal in the history of life on earth, the opposite happened: we stopped speciating.