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Jan Verpooten
KLI Brown Bag
Sensory Exploitation and the Emergence and Evolution of Human Artistic Behaviors
Jan VERPOOTEN (University of Antwerp)
2009-11-03 13:15 - 2009-11-03 13:15
KLI for Evolution and Cognition Research, Altenberg, Austria
Organized by KLI

Topic description:
Artistic behaviors (i.e. producing and experiencing paintings, sculptures, music, dance, story-telling, ...) have constituted an integral part of the human behavioral repertoire for some 40,000 years. This observation poses two important questions: - Why do these behaviors appear stably across human cultures since then? - Why don't these behaviors appear with consistent presence in any culture or population earlier than 40,000 years ago? (This is quite remarkable, since humans have been anatomically modern for up to 200,000 years.) A kaleidoscope of evolutionary hypotheses have been proposed to address the first question. They disagree on several crucial points, viz., the adaptivity of artistic behaviors, the level and unit of selection (genetic or cultural), and the underlying evolutionary mechanism and function (e.g., mating display vs. group bonding). We have proposed a concept based on Sensory Exploitation (SE), a model from biological signal evolution, to articulate and evaluate all these hypotheses regarding visual art. We have also applied this concept to address the second question. With SE as a driving force, we have suggested, the production of iconic representations (i.e. rock art, figurines), which is potentially (at least initially) a maladaptive or adaptively neutral activity, evolved by piggybacking on cumulative adaptive cultural evolution. Our aim is to further explore possibilities the concept of SE has to offer in regard to the emergence and evolution of other human signaling behaviors (use of perfumes, music, architecture, etc.). Further, concerning creativity, we are interested in how a systems-theory related view can complement our approach.


Biographical note:
Jan Verpooten obtained his MSc Biology (option, "Organisms and Populations") from the University of Antwerp, Belgium. He studied the social behavior (conflict management) of spider monkeys in the wild in Yucatan, Mexico, as a research assistant of Prof. dr. Filippo Aureli, John Moore's University, UK. For some years now he has been collaborating with Prof. Dr. Mark Nelissen of the University of Antwerp (Behavioral Biology) in developing an evolutionary approach to human artistic behaviors. At the moment he is preparing a PhD on this subject.